Possible lifeline for EMS

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July 23, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Allen County commissioners will decide Aug. 5 whether to shore up Iola’s ambulance service finances.
Tuesday morning Commissioner Tom Williams proposed transferring $136,000 to the city, with promise of another $53,000 if the city’s ambulance fund doesn’t recover from a projected $378,000 shortfall. The two amounts would cover half the shortfall that has administrators and city council members anxious.
Commissioner Dick Works seconded Williams’ motion, and immediately made one of his own, to put off the vote until Aug. 5, when the full commission will be in attendance.
A caveat of the county’s funding assistance will be that if Iola were to default on ambulance service and return it to county control, the money provided to help alleviate the shortfall would have to be returned to the county.
“They (the city) are trying to calculate as best they can what will be needed” to fully fund ambulance service for the remainder of 2014, Williams said. “I think that will play out by the end of year,” which prompted withholding $53,000 that the county pocketed after Jan. 1 in payments for late 2013 runs.
Williams said he hoped the county’s possible change of heart would help city officials figure their 2015 budget. Just lask week, county commissioners said they would wait until October to decide on any additional funding for the countywide EMS service.
At a special meeting Monday night, city council members indicated they might pull the trigger on ambulance service. Whether the county’s recent decision will be a game-changer is yet to be determined. The city’s 2015 budget hearing will be Aug. 11.
While it wasn’t a stipulation of the motion to provide funding, commissioners Works and Williams said they would like to learn specifics of why the ambulance fund is running short. They instructed County Counselor Alan Weber to visit with City Administrator Carl Slaugh.
“I assume huge start-up costs were part of the reason,” said Williams, for such things as equipment and training — city ambulance personnel are required to be able to respond to fire calls — and overtime pay, with the city ambulance-fire department being at less than full strength.
Works questioned whether calling in back-up personnel for all ambulance runs made from the Iola station was needed, or if having six people on duty was necessary. Four might be enough, he opined.
The funding decision came at the end of the commissioners’ meeting. Earlier Slaugh stopped by as he frequently does and pointed out council members were considering a 6 mill increase in the city’s property levy in 2015 to support ambulance service.
Then again, he observed, council members “may drop the whole thing depending on what happens,” in apparent reference to Iola’s request for funding assistance from the county.
He noted that this year a typical Iolan paid property taxes generated by a levy of 183 mills — for city, county, USD 257, Allen Community College and state budgets. For comparison, a Humboldt resident was assessed 233 mills.
Slaugh said Iolans’ levy likely would go up, if the ambulance levy was approved and if USD 257 added 9 mills for construction of new schools. Also council members will decide Monday night whether to ask voter approval of a half-cent sales tax to support school construction and help city coffers.
Iola’s valuation, down about 5 percent, is $29 million, meaning a levy of 1 mill raises $29,000. Individually, a homeowner pays $1 for each $1,000 of assessed valuation, or $11.50 per mill on a home with a market value of $100,000.

IN OTHER NEWS:
— Bill King, director of Public Works, said construction of a new bridge over Owl Creek, about two miles west of Humboldt, would begin Aug. 6. The project should be completed by the end of the year.
He added that reconstruction of four miles of Delaware Road, running east from 2200 Street, had been completed, except for cleanup. County crews are chip-sealing an access road and parking lot near the new USD 258 sports complex just east of Humboldt. The next major project will be chip-seal of old U.S. 169 between Humboldt and Iola.
— King will have a proposal for substantial improvements at Allen County Airport, mainly to provide for quicker refueling of airplanes. He said currently refueling was done at 10 gallons a minute, while new pumps would increase that to 100 gallons a minute. Cost is expected to be $50,000 or more.
Many larger planes, including some operated by the military, are bypassing Allen County Airport because of the slow rate of fueling, King said.
The airport has about 25,000 gallons capacity for three types of aviation fuel.
— On Sheriff Bryan Murphy’s recommendation, commissioners accepted a bid of $5,760 for a 2009 sheriff’s department pickup truck. The truck has 170,000 miles on it. Murphy reasoned the bid, from Iolan Dan Sigg, was more than would come with trade-in.
— Commissioners looked briefly at a revised draft of their 2015 budget, which included a property tax levy of 67.984 mills, 3.171 mills less than this year’s levy and about 10 mills less than that attached to the first draft. Commissioner Works said more tweaking was due the budget.

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