The fat lady’s aria detailing merger of Allen County and Iola’s ambulance services may not be heard quite as quickly as had been anticipated.
Allen County commissioners said Tuesday morning they had concerns about how county employees would be treated in transfer to the city service and wanted the contract with Iola to detail provisions for such things as seniority, vacation, sick leave and salaries.
Before that hiccup surfaced, it appeared the contract was nearly a done deal, with city council members to consider it Monday night and commissioners next Tuesday.
City Administrator Carl Slaugh said he would work feverishly to deal with the personnel issues, with allowance that he might have them resolved by next week.
“We want to protect our employees,” who decide to continue in ambulance service as medics and firefighters, said Commission Chairman Dick Works.
Commissioner Tom Williams chimed in that he too was eager for county employees not to suffer financially with a transfer.
The contractual glitch popped up when Slaugh and commissioners were discussing what the city’s control of countywide ambulance service would mean financially, to county taxpayers as a whole and those who live within Iola.
Slaugh’s estimate is the combination of ambulance and fire service will cost about $2.1 million during 2014, compared to $2.5 million with the way things have been with two ambulance services.
Works suggested that might permit commissioners to lower the county’s mill levy by 3 to 5 mills.
But, that may be offset for Iolans by an increase in the city’s levy to cope with added expense of having all ambulance responsibilities. Slaugh said $100,000 to $150,000 might be needed above what the city will receive from the county — a guarantee of $750,000 from run charges — and money budgeted to meet expenses. If that were the case, Iolan’s property tax levies could increase by 3 to 5 mills.
However, Slaugh stressed that it was next to impossible to access with much accuracy what costs will be before some time has passed with Iola in charge.
A SURVEY of 19 full-time county ambulance employees found that transfer and compensation issues may not affect many.
Mike Burnett, interim county director, said 16 didn’t “plan on staying to work with the fire department.” One expressed interest; two were undecided.
The survey was done ahead of decisions on how transfers would work and how those eligible — part-time responders aren’t being considered initially — would be treated as city employees.
The survey also found that seven employees planned to leave before Dec. 31 — effective date for the merger is Jan. 1 — while eight others were undecided and four intended to continue working.
Several said in comments that they didn’t want to take on firefighting responsibilities, which is a part of the city’s plan with the merger.
Slaugh’s response was that the city would “make (the transfer) as accommodating as possible, but when it comes down to it, we have a job to do” and those involved must “be part of a team.”
WORKS SAID the merger as proposed “is not the optimum solution, but it is better than we have now,” referring to two ambulance services.
Several Humboldt residents, including council members Sunny Shreeve, Vada Aikins and Jerry Stephens, told commissioners ahead of discussions about personnel and finances that they had concerns about Iola running a countywide service in conjunction with its fire department.
“I feel there has been no consideration given to the entire county, only Iola,” Aikins said. “The state assessment done last year showed many inadequacies in the Iola EMS service and facilities compared to the Allen County EMS service. Why in the world would we want to have less?”
She questioned whether Humboldt residents would receive less care, with Iola having just three paramedics and indications that it may be difficult to increase that number enough to fully staff three ambulances 24/7 in Iola, Humboldt and Moran.
Williams countered that the contract commissioners negotiated with Iola ensured the level of care in outlying areas would not degrade.
In response to another comment, Williams said finances were not an overriding consideration in construction of the merger, certainly “not more important than life” of patients. He also observed that the merger was “probably a better deal for the county” than the city, with it willing to step up and assume the responsibility.
At some point it was noted that if Iola were fail to provide a type I service — a paramedic on every run — or defaulted responsibility a termination clause in the contract would be triggered.
Works fortified Williams’ responses that the city’s service would have type I service in all three towns, and would remain one of the best countywide services in the area. He pointed out that many counties, including larger ones, didn’t have the coverage Allen County has had and would continue to have.
“It is a leap of faith,” Williams said, and that he hoped “all in the county will try to make it work.”
Joel Wicoff, Iola mayor, interjected that the city had no intention of reducing personnel or service provided, with type I being a component of the contract.
As discussion wound down, Stephens asked if the county was prepared to make the call to pull the plug on the contract if the city didn’t meet its responsibilities.
No question, said Works.
“It is no different than if we contracted with an outside provider,” Works added. “Essentially, that’s what the county is doing.”
“I think it will work better than anyone in this room thinks,” Williams said.