Iola keeps EMS operation

With cost projections largely within their comfort zone, Iola City Council members voted Monday to retain a citywide ambulance service once its contract to provide countywide EMS expires Dec. 31. The county will utilize a private company for EMS operations.

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Local News

September 14, 2021 - 10:40 AM

Iola will go its own way for ambulance services in 2022.

City Council members voted, 6-2, Monday evening to continue providing emergency medical services in Iola’s city limits, apart from the county ambulance system.

For the past seven years, Iola has been responsible for all ambulance services in Allen County, with Iola firefighters manning ambulance stations in Iola, Humboldt and Moran.

That’s about to change, after Allen County commissioners voted in August to negotiate a contract with American Medical Response (AMR) for countywide EMS, thus allowing the county’s contract with the city to expire Dec. 31.

The framework for an Iola-only EMS is already in place. 

The city owns two ambulances, has its own drug license to keep the ambulances stocked and other essential equipment, but most importantly, the city’s department already is fully staffed.

But there are still a number of issues to be resolved, especially on covering a projected revenue shortfall, which could be as much as $430,000.

And while the city has two ambulances, the age of the vehicles is an issue. One was manufactured in 1995; the other in 1996.

City Administrator Matt Rehder projected a citywide ambulance/fire service will cost Iola about $2.4 million, or about $658,000 more than what the Council has budgeted for 2022.

Rehder estimated the city would bring in $225,000 or so in ambulance revenues — a conservative estimate — leaving a shortfall of $430,000.

Rehder noted the deficit is likely going to be significantly smaller, noting he both over-estimated projected costs, and under-estimated revenues. But he was hesitant to make any more concrete projections.

Slaugh noted Rehder’s deficit projections also do not include the cost of a new ambulance.

“Those two ambulances are old and past the point they should have been replaced,” Slaugh said. “That’s the number one thing. We may need to fork over $230,000” to buy a new ambulance in short order.

Mayor Jon Wells touched on those estimates, pointing out the city won’t spend $2.4 million this year with its countywide services.

“I think that number is really high,” Wells said. “I think the costs are going to be much lower.”

“I was surprisingly surprised to see the (differences) as low as you guys have projected it,” Councilman Gene Myrick said. “I said before that I wanted to wait and see the dollars before I made a decision. This came in way below what I was expecting.”

Councilman Ron Ballard agreed, expecting the shortfall will fall in the $300,000 range.

There are a number of options to cover the shortfall.

A 3-mill property tax increase would bring in more than $100,000, Rehder said. The city also could dedicate sales tax revenues, rely on utility fund transfers, and ask the county for reimbursement. (A state law allows cities to recoup funding from counties if they provide their own ambulance service.)

While Councilman Carl Slaugh said he supports the idea of a citywide ambulance service, he suggested the city wait until hearing again from the county. He, along with Councilman Mark Peters cast the two dissenting votes.

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