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Floyd County EMS Advisory Council begins sorting potential tax numbers

By Bob Steenson,

A newly formed Floyd County Emergency Medical Services System Advisory Council has some significant work to do, and a short time in which to do it.

The advisory council must come up with an annual tax dollar figure that it thinks is sufficient to support ambulance service and other emergency medical services (EMS) activities in the county, decide for how many years a potential tax levy or levies should run, then make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.

It must do that in the next few weeks in order to give supervisors time to make a decision on the recommendation by the end of this month if the council and the board want the question to go before the voters on the Nov. 8 general election this year.

Several members of the advisory council questioned whether it was realistic to get all the numbers together that will be needed to make a recommendation to the supervisors in the time available.

Advisory council member Jeff Stirling, crew chief for the Greene Ambulance, said he was also on the Butler Council advisory council, and they were looking at a vote in the 2023 general election.

Advisory council member Brian Chambers, the chief for the Marble Rock Fire Department and Marble Rock First Responders, said there was a danger if there wasn’t enough time to fully explain the proposed tax and its necessity to the voters that the measure could fail.

“If we push it too hard and miss, it will be hard to try again,” Chambers said,

If a vote is held and it fails to meet a required 60% approval threshold, then according to the Iowa Code the essential services designation for EMS in the county that the Board of Supervisors approved at its Monday meeting would be void and the Board of Supervisors would have to start all over again.

In this case, it could be a brand new Board of Supervisors, as none of the current members is running for reelection and the entire board is open this year because of new supervisor districting.

Despite initial misgivings about the time available, the advisory council forged ahead at its initial meeting Tuesday evening, forming an action plan and a schedule with the purpose of coming up with a recommendation that would make a public vote possible this year.

Brandy Molitor, an advanced EMT with AMR ambulance and the founder of the Floyd County EMS Association, said many of the numbers are already known, and she had been gathering data for some time.

The board agreed it should come up with the total cost for 10 years to support the current AMR ambulance service, Nora Springs Volunteer Ambulance Service, Greene Volunteer Ambulance service within Floyd County, Marble Rock First Responders and Floyd County EMS Association, to cover the costs of staffing, training, equipment and capital costs.

The law allows the county to seek to collect an EMS tax for up to 15 years, but after a discussion it was decided by the advisory council that 15 years seemed too long, five years seemed too short, and the 10 years seemed about right.

At a previous meeting of the Floyd County Ambulance Commission, it was noted that AMR had estimated its future contract prices for the services now being offered to Charles City and Floyd County would be around $226,000 in the next year of a new contract beginning July 1, 2023, with about a 5% increase per year after that.

Over 10 years, that would be an average annual price for the AMR contract of $284,260 per year, which if the contract continued as the current contract, would be split between the city and the county.

According to Iowa Code 422D, which was updated last year to make it easier for counties to establish EMS as an essential service, the advisory council “shall recommend to the board of supervisors an amount of funding to be specified on the ballot.”

The advisory council was established by the Board of Supervisors at the board’s meeting Monday morning. The advisory council held its first meeting Wednesday evening, and could potentially hold three or more meetings in the next two weeks, with the goal of coming up with a recommendation for the supervisors by the supervisors’ Aug. 22 meeting.

That would give the supervisors that meeting and the following meeting on Aug. 29 to decide if they want to put the question to the voters this year, and what the question should say.

The advisory council was formed after the county supervisors took the last step Monday to establish EMS as an “essential service” in Floyd County, eligible to be supported by a specific tax levy, just as law enforcement and fire protection currently are.

Currently there is no requirement under state law that a person who calls for an ambulance will have one sent. It all comes down to the contracts and agreements that private and public ambulance companies have with the areas they serve.

With the decision by the supervisors Monday to declare EMS an essential service, the county can now ask voters to approve either a property tax, an income tax surtax or a combination of both to pay for that service. The vote would need to pass by at least a 60% majority.

Ambulance service in Charles City and Floyd County is currently provided by AMR, which has a contract with the city and the county currently for $100,000 each per year – tax money the city and county are now using to support EMS.

In addition, the city provides space in the fire station for AMR offices, ambulance storage and crew sleeping quarters. The county provides dispatch service for AMR, and also provides some support annually to the Nora Springs Volunteer Ambulance Service, and pays a per-use fee to the Green Ambulance for patients in Floyd County.

Floyd County Supervisor Roy Schwickerath, a non-voting member of the advisory council, said it was probably reasonable to base the 10-year cost estimate on what service would cost from AMR and the other county ambulance and first responder crews.

“It’s been said over and over we’re satisfied with the service we have, so why would we look to pay more taxpayer money for more service?” he asked.

Schwickerath said he thinks it is likely that some combination of a property tax and an income tax surtax will be required to collect the figure the advisory council comes up with.

Members of the advisory council, appointed Monday by the Board of Supervisors, are:

  • Patrick Lumley, Charles City Council member, elected chair of the council by the council members.
  • Dawnett Willis, CEO of the Floyd County Medical Center, elected vice-chair.
  • Brandy Molitor, advanced EMT with AMR and founder of the Floyd County EMS Association, elected secretary.
  • Jeff Stirling, crew chief for the Greene Volunteer Ambulance.
  • Brian Chambers, Marble Rock Fire Chief and Marble Rock First Responders.

The Board of Supervisors may consider adding two additional persons who applied to be on the council – Dawn Staudt, station supervisor of AMR ambulance service in Charles City, and Dave Luett, service director, Nora Springs Volunteer Ambulance Service.

If an EMS tax levy is put to the voters and passes, the Floyd County EMS System Advisory Council would continue to exist, making annual reports to the supervisors on how the EMS tax money is being used and how EMS expense needs are being met.

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