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Ballot Question 1A Will Determine Ambulance Economic Future

City and County Explain Ballot Options

 

 

The need for Ballot Question 1A to be passed in the November General Election was addressed by the Prowers County Commissioners and the Lamar City Council during a community forum held at the Cultural Events Center Wednesday evening, September 26th.  Both municipal entities contribute general budget funding to operate the Lamar Fire and Ambulance service, essentially shoring up an annual loss as the service has been running in the red for years.

As explained by Lamar Mayor Roger Stagner and County Commission Chairman, Ron Cook, Ballot 1A, if passed, will add a 0.025 per cent sales tax charge to purchases in the county, or twenty-five cents for every $100 spent, to be applied to the ambulance service for Prowers County as well as the Holly Ambulance and Fire District. Councilman Kirk Crespin explained, “We decided on the sales tax as opposed to a property tax levy as a more fair way of raising the funds and not penalizing the property owners.”  He said that any purchase made in the county, especially by non-residents, will help contribute to the proposed $400,000 in funding that the ballot will generate each year.

A three person committee will oversee the funds and will be comprised of one city council representative, one from the county commissioners and the Holly Fire and Ambulance District will select their own representative. That District is holding a special election on October 9th to select new district members.  Thirteen candidates and one write-in candidate will be on the ballot which is being sent to eligible Holly voters and five directors for the board will be selected to serve either two or four year terms.

The funding will be divided among the three groups as: $240,000 for the City of Lamar, $80,000 for Holly and the remaining $80,000 will be held in a reserve fund to be applied to ambulance use only.  This includes materials, training and equipment.  Any funding not spent through the year will be carried over into the new year.  None of the funding from the tax will go towards to fire departments as spelled out in the resolution and by laws under which the committee will be governed.

The economic shortfall has been generated by several factors: lower and slower payments from Medicaid and Medicare, fewer personally insured patients requiring ambulance service and those who cannot or will not pay for the ambulance services.  Lamar Fire Chief, Jeremy Burkhart, told the audience that the number of ambulance calls has grown to almost twice the numbers today from when he first joined the organization and extrapolated through this year’s number of calls that 2018 may see as many as 1,280 runs.  The aging population of the county also factors into the growing number of calls each year.

Both the city and the county make up the difference out of their general funds, with the city contributing about $48,000 a year, funding which, Stagner said, could be applied to other needs in the city which are not being covered. The county’s budget, according to Commissioner, Wendy Buxton Andrade, is also feeling the continued economic pinch and the sales tax, which has been considered for several years, is now the only option on the table.

If the ballot question is not passed, Stagner said the city or the county has little recourse in the way of meeting the shortfall. Councilman Oscar Riley said one hard option would be to limit the number of calls provided to outlying areas.  “Perhaps we may only send the ambulance out to a five mile limit around the city.”  Holly would have their own coverage, but that could leave Wiley and Granada without service.  The use of private ambulance services was addressed, but Mayor Stagner said they generally cost more and those who have tried to operate in the county had had trouble finding certified EMTs who would work at a lower pay scale.  A lot of the ambulance work in the county is conducted by volunteer EMTs.  Stagner said he spoke recently with La Junta on their private ambulance operation, but their costs are actually greater than Lamar’s and are run by a separate board from their city council.

One other advantage to the passage of the ballot would be the eventual freeing of those general funds which are being committed to the ambulance service. Commissioner Ron Cook said that money could be applied to other areas which are being either overlooked or having their budgets continually reduced.  As an example, Darla Scranton Specht, Holly Attorney, explained that the $40,000 generated in the community by a mill levy for the service, could be split, shifting those funds to the Fire Department, while the revenue generated by the tax would be redirected  to the ambulance and other services.

By Russ Baldwin

Filed Under: City of GranadaCity of HollyCity of LamarCity of WileyConsumer IssuesCountyEconomyElectionsFeaturedPublic SafetyThe Journal Alert

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