EMS: Iola to ask county to return to the bargaining table

Iola officials want to ask county commissioners to return to the bargaining table to renegotiate the city's ambulance contract, as the city plans to separate its fire and EMS departments.

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October 25, 2022 - 2:12 PM

Iola ambulance personnel respond to a traffic accident near the Allen County Airport in September.

The Iola-Allen County EMS saga may soon take another turn.

City officials will ask if Allen County is willing to return to the bargaining table to renegotiate the city’s ambulance contract — even if it means divesting Iola from providing emergency medical services altogether.

City Council members Monday discussed further their decision earlier this month to split Iola’s fire and emergency medical services, and have separate personnel for each.

As part of the discussion, City Administrator Matt Rehder asked for — and now has received — the Council’s blessing to approach the county about renegotiating the contract ratified in late 2021.

The issue, Rehder explained previously, is a chronic manpower shortage within the Iola Fire Department, in part because many firefighters are less enthusiastic about working on an ambulance crew, while emergency medical technicians, paramedics and other EMS staffers are less inclined to want to fight fires.

Having separate services is projected to cost an extra $600,000 annually, primarily because of the added personnel to keep both running smoothly.

The city’s 2023 budget for the existing fire/EMS department is $3.5 million. The Iola-only fire service would cost the city about $2.2 million; EMS-alone would cost $1.945 million.

A five-year contract reached last year with Allen County has the county paying the city $1.65 million for EMS, increasing that payment 2.5% each year through the life of the contract.

The EMS costs — in particular the roughly $250,000 difference between the projected cost next year vs. what the county agreed to pay the city — provided the crux of Monday’s discussion.

Councilman Nickolas Kinder noted the county has expressed disappointment with the contract, particularly with revenues not meeting expenses this year, and a perceived lack of communication with the city.

“There are issues the county commission would like to see addressed,” Kinder said. “By getting back together, we can review where costs are, and come up with something more beneficial to the county and the city.”

However, Mayor Steve French noted the city’s decision may not go as merrily as Kinder suggested.

“I want to make sure everyone’s aware,” French warned. “The county’s not been secret that they think they already pay us too much. Their desire is to have the contract renegotiated at a lower rate than $1.6 million.”

Rehder, in response to questioning from Councilman Nich Lohman, said the city would be able “to soldier on” for a year under the current contract terms, noting the county has brought in less than expected run revenue this year after going to a third-party administrator to handle collections. Rehder declined to speculate if the city could go longer than that.

“I’m very uncomfortable asking to renegotiate a contract that was very difficult to get in the first place,” Lohman replied.

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