Three weeks after Forsyth County commissioners directed department heads to cut 1-2 percent from their departmental budgets to help plug a $1.3 million gap in the 2012 budget, they are now considering donating $700,000 to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta to buy a pediatric neonatal ambulance for the new facility in Forsyth County.
Commission Chairman Brian Tam placed the issue on last week's work session agenda and commissioners voted unanimously to direct County Attorney Ken Jarrard to meet with Children's Healthcare officials to draft an agreement.
Beth Buursema, the community outreach liaison for Children's Healthcare of Forsyth and North Fulton said, "This is just amazing that they are considering doing this. It would be a great service to children in our community."
Children's has six of what Buursema calls a rolling pediatric ICU unit but the Forsyth facility doesn't have one dedicated to its full time use.
Commissioner Todd Levent said Wednesday, "There is a desperate need in Forsyth County for this type of specialized ambulance. If it saves just one child's life, it will be a tremendous asset to our community."
But, Levent added, "I don't want taxpayers to bear the full cost. I believe that we, as commissioners, need to do our best to get private industry more involved in this effort. Encouraging businesses in our community to donate to help save children's lives is the proper role for government to play."
Levent said it now appears the budget will be balanced and that paid holidays and cost-of-living raises for county employees will be restored.
Critics, however, questioned the propriety and wisdom of gifting such a large amount of taxpayer dollars in the midst of one of the worst recessions in decades.
Brad Wilkins, vice chairman of the Forsyth County Republican Party and one of the founders of the conservative group Concerned Citizens for Forsyth County, agreed that it is a worthy cause, but added, "It is not government's role to dictate to citizens which charitable contributions they must make."
Wilkins said he will make a recommendation to commissioners at Thursday's meeting about how to raise some, if not all, of the necessary funding for Children's Healthcare without forcing citizens to donate.