Merger talks leaning toward Iola

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June 4, 2013 - 12:00 AM

If details can be worked out, Iola will run countywide ambulance service as well as its fire department.
That outcome surfaced from an hour-long meeting between governing bodies of Iola and the county Monday evening.
Dick Works, longtime commissioner and staunchest of all in insisting the county should provide the service, said: “I’m not saying I would never go to option 3 (city control), but I want more numbers,” showing the city could perform the task at a lesser cost than is required by the two services of today.
Next chore for commissioners will be to develop a list of priorities for a contract.

FRED HEISMEYER, the meeting’s moderator, opened the session by listing four options:
1) Leaving things as they are, the county answering ambulance calls outside Iola, Iola dealing with those in the city as well as fire calls;
2) A combined fire and ambulance service, operated by the county, with volunteer fire departments in outlying areas unaffected;
3) The city operating countywide ambulance and local fire service, also with volunteer departments unaffected;
4) Separate departments — the city operating Iola fire, the county all ambulance response.
With Commissioner Jim Talkington and three council members, Beverly Franklin, Steve French and Nancy Ford, absent, a straw vote on the options left No. 3 with six votes, No. 4 two — Works and Councilman Bob Shaughnessy.
Four council members — Don Becker, Jon Wells, Sandy Zornes and Gene Myrick — and Mayor Joel Wicoff favored No. 3, which would have been enough support for it to pass had it been a formal proposal. County commissioners were split, with Williams in favor of No. 3, Works No. 4.
Williams signed on to city control of all services because, as Heismeyer mentioned, that is what the majority favors.
“It will be the most complicated,” Williams predicted, and will take “a monumental effort to work out all the details. The fourth option would be the simplest.”
Financial information developed since the two bodies last met indicated overall savings of $535,000 with either the city or county operating ambulance and Iola fire. The accounting showed a savings of $557,000 with the county operating all ambulances, Iola its fire department.
Income last year from the two services was $700,000, but the anticipation is, with aggressive collection and changes in federal reimbursements with the Affordable Care Act, the total would approach $1 million. Of that, $700,000 would come from responses throughout the county and about $300,000 in Iola.

WICOFF said both services “are doing a good job, but we have lots of personnel and lots of ambulances,” and that he favored working out a deal — city control of all  — that’s “financially good to Allen County citizens and provides good service.”
Otherwise, he allowed, “we should stay with the first option” — leave things as they are.
Newly appointed councilman Wells pointed out that the city operating all saved money, and that he wasn’t totally opposed to the fourth option.
“We need to look at common ground and identify roadblocks,” in developing protocols and a contract for the city to provide countywide ambulance service, Heismeyer said.   
“I’m willing to explore anything that will solve this problem,” of two services, Williams added.
A meeting to bring proposals together was not scheduled and will depend on when both sides are comfortable with what they want in a contract, one that Councilman Bob Shaughnessy said should be for multiple years.
“I don’t like contracts,” particularly ones of a year’s duration, he said. “How are you going to hire people without longtime security.”
Contract negotiations, Works interjected, was a problem over the years when the county operated all ambulance service and each year negotiated with Iola, Humboldt and Moran to operate ambulances.
Also, it was noted several times that however discussions eventually shake out, residents of Humboldt and Moran will see no change of substance. Each will continue to have ambulance service 24 hours a day.
If no agreement is reached, discussions will cease and the two services will remain intact.

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