By Jennifer Britt
The Parsons Advocate
During a special meeting held by the Tucker County Commission with the Ambulance Authority the vote to dismantle the EMS ordinance fee was two to one. Commissioners Fred Davis and Mike Rosenau voted yes to approve the dissolution of the ordinance fee and Commissioner Lowell Moore voted against it. This was not the answer the authority was wishing for and will now have to move forward with other options for finances.
Ambulance Authority, Dennis Filler, presented to the commission that with the funding the county would collected from the ordinance fee the EMS facility will have been able to run at the current level until June of 2023. This would have enabled the EMS to leave the $217,296.95 currently in escrow for future equipment buys such as a new ambulance.
The ordinance fee being no longer in play the EMS crews will most likely go down to one crew. The state average for running a one crew operations is $500,000 a year. In the upcoming fiscal year, the ambulance authority had budgeted for $1,056,607.65 to run two crews based on the projected $501,341.36 from patient revenue, $152,343.60 cash on hand in operations account, $100,000 from hotel/motel tax monies, $40,745 from excess hotel/motel monies, $110,000 from the Tucker County Commission and the now nonexistent $200,000 from the ordinance fee. That is a grand total of $1,104,429.96.
According to the figures presented at the meeting with the ordinance fee the EMS could only run for 366 days at $1,646.28 a day operating expense starting June 1, 2022. The projected funds would be depleted by June 1, 2023, leaving one month in the fiscal year of operation uncovered. Fiscal year runs from July to July and is not based on the calendar year of January to December.
With the current cash on hand, funds received from other sources and not including the escrow account money the EMS could run with two crews until January 30, 2023, with current staffing and billing.
These numbers are based on no pay raises or up training for the current staff and staffing stays as it is and current expenditures. Dennis Filler said, “Based upon runs we did this year we are going to see $501,000 revenue for billing. We have come up with metric billing that says based upon or above and beyond what our billing is we need $1,646.28 cash per day to run the EMS at the current level and current staff. Now keep in mind this does not talk about replacing an ambo if we need a new ambo (ambulance) we will not have the money for it.
That metric is one we will use going forward. We dynamically calculated the cash we have on hand and being able to have some on reserve.”
The projections will change without the ordinance fee monies. The EMS crews will most likely drop to one with many of the crew members seeking employment elsewhere from the fear of not having enough money available to keep employment in their current position at Tucker County EMS. Staffing issues have been a concern for quite some time now. Main reason expressed by workers is the pay rate in Tucker County for EMTs and Paramedics is on the low side compared to other surrounding counties.
Rosenau asked about grants and if any were available. Filler said that yes, they had investigated grants but that couldn’t pay their staff. Chris Davis later explained that grants were given to replace equipment, but if that equipment piece was still in operation, you could not legally apply for a grant to replace it. C. Davis said, “After talking to PS Dr. Martin, he had said that if we needed something specific then there are specific grants to go after. So, if you needed an ambulance, if you needed equipment then some of those opportunities are likely out there. Unfortunately, there is no grants that cover the cost of running.”
Rosenau stated, “If you go after grants for something like an ambulance then that obviates the need for such a high escrow.” C. Davis agreed and said hopefully when those occurrences happen the EMS could look for those opportunities as they arise.
Theoretically speaking the EMS could run for the next year with two crews as budgeted without the ordinance fee. If they use the money in escrow. However, when the year ended, they would have to find the $200,000 used escrow funding for the upcoming year following the end of the fiscal year in 2023.
Rosenau asked the authority if they had any thoughts to other options for funding. C. Davis expressed the need for the levy to be reintroduced and backed by the Commissioners.
Many residents have spoken out about the reasons why they did not vote in favor of the levy during the spring elections. Many said the main reason was they needed to hear from the Commissioners where they stood concerning the ordinance fee. If the ordinance fee had of been removed before hand or voted to be disposed of when the levy passed many said they would have voted for the levy but could not without knowing what would happen. Nobody expressed a desire to get hit with a double whammy of taxes and fees.
- Davis said, “A lot of people said they did not vote for the levy before because we did not vote on the ordinance fee before to take the $50 off. A lot of people said if we had that in writing that you are taking the $50 off this levy would have passed.”
- Davis went on to suggest bringing back the volunteer donation and said, “I have been around of the hard-core people that just blew us out of the water and kept on everyone in this room about the levy and the $50 fee. I brought this one up other time, and a lot of people may not like what I am about to say about a volunteer thing and a lot of people said they would never ever pay us, and they tried that before me and it just did not work. What would happen if we tried to do some of that now and the hard-core people said yes, we would be more and glad. I would be happy to try the volunteer donation thing again.”
Filler said, “Folks can always make a volunteer payment to the EMS. There is nothing stopping anyone from gifting money to the EMS.
- Davis said, “We can always send out flyers to everyone asking to donate what they can afford and if that works then that’s that. But you always hear people do not like giving their money away. No matter what we do this money situation is always to be tough. I just learned that Preston County ambulance has shut down. They even have a hospital in their county, so this is not an easy situation that we are all in.”
Rosenau asked Filler if they could raise money. Filler said, “Do you as a commissioner go out and raise money for yourself? Why would we expect working professionals with licenses that are issued by the state to do that same kind of thing?”
Rosenau answered by saying, “I am not saying that you do a bake sale or a chicken burn, but I am saying that you can accept donations. I look at the fee as a donation right now. When you do not have any consequences for not paying your fee, you never have to in the beginning. It has never been enforced. It was on before I ever got here (as commissioner) The people did not pay the first year. Was there anything done? I am not going to go back and clean up that mess from four or five years ago.”
Diane Hinkle said, “I agree with that, it should have been enforced from the beginning and now it is too late.”
When F. Davis mentioned that he was told in the beginning there were certain things they could or could not do concerning collecting the fee. Moore mentioned he had asked F. Davis to take it to the magistrate and Rosenau interrupted and said they were not going to rehash that at this time.
At which time Rosenau presented a motion to eliminate the $50 fee. The motion passed with two to one vote. With Rosenau and F. Davis in support of and L. Moore against. Many asked if this was legal because it was not on the agenda for the meeting. Rosenau stated it was in fact legal because the motion was placed in a special meeting and not a work session.
Moore commented, “We had two full crews for a long time and in this modernization, we are going back to one crew. It is shame going back to one crew. We are going backwards instead of forwards. Sad day for Tucker County.” Rosenau reminded Moore that the people voted and have spoken.