Commission avoids ambulance fee hike, expresses concerns about squad future
A special meeting of the Morgan County Commission to discuss finances with the Morgan County Rescue Service didn’t yield any solutions or propose specific actions to help the ambulance service avoid projected budget shortfalls. But it did make clear that county officials want to avoid hiking the $75 ambulance fee.
Right now, the rescue squad has begun cutting its crew coverage to save money, anticipating that funds for staffing and supplies will run out sooner than later.
Administrator Kevin Duck-wall said the hospital fee is an obvious place to look for help. Duckwall pointed out that when the $75 was put into effect to support 911 Emergency Medical Service (EMS), the fee was supposed to be revisited in five years.
“We’re at that five year point,” Duckwall said.
“The fee was implement in 2007 and it hasn’t changed, but look at the cost of fuel and other things we’ve picked up since then,” said EMS Board member Bob Dugan.
No support for fee hike
The commissioners plainly said they didn’t support raising the $75 fee on property owners right now.
“I think the bottom line is we want to fully exhaust all of our options before we look at raising anything,” said Commissioner Close.
Commission President Stacy Dugan urged rescue squad officials to look again at the possibility of doing routine patient transports on top of 911 services.
“To go from the hospital to the nursing home — it seems like easy money,” she said.
Commissioner Dugan insisted that the squad’s operating license would allow them to do inter-facility transports, even if they aren’t currently certified or staffed to do those transports.
She suggested having a small committee of business people review the squad’s budget, in hopes of finding more savings.
The idea didn’t get wide support. Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson said the county didn’t need to establish another committee.
Cuts to come
Duckwall summarized the financial situation, saying Morgan County Rescue Service receives $540,000 from the ambulance fee and roughly $330,000 in payments for its services.
The squad simply would have to cut its outlays to stay within that revenue. The service has not been able to put money aside to replace aging vehicles or prepare for future growth, said Duckwall.
Spending increases have largely been to keep staff pay in line with surrounding areas, in an effort to keep reliable crews.
“You’re on borrowed time. What are we going to do? We can’t go without ambulance service,” said Dugan.
Cuts in May already eliminated two 12-hour ambulance crew shifts that provided backup in the case of simultaneous emergency calls.
Since that cut, Morgan County has had to rely on mutual aid from nearby squads three times, said Todd Songer.
“What we do here affects every other company in the area,” said Duckwall.