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Community Notes: EMS tax levy vote part of big year ahead

By Patrick Lumley, Councilor, Charles City Council

Greetings fellow Charles Citians! I hope you are as excited as I am for spring to be here and spending quality time outdoors with warmer weather on the horizon!

I look back on the last year with a lot of positives, excitement and some heavy concerns as we continue in 2024. From a City Council perspective, 2024 is off to a very busy start with many challenging decisions ahead of us on many fronts. We are in the final stage of the annual city budget season, with a change to the budget process based on state legislative actions that include the removal of key levies and budget certification timelines that present a challenge.

Similar to last year, this will be another “no-frills” budget in a continued effort to provide sound services to the community, and continue addressing blighted properties, poor sidewalk conditions and other areas of concerns that we all share as a community.

This year will be yet another busy construction season in and around our great city, with the repaving and reconstruction of Main Street, the long-awaited extension of the Charley Western Trail, annual road and water/sewer work, wrapping up the Clear Well project, continued or completing updates for Pure Prairie Poultry, NIACC Center, Floyd County Medical Center, Cambrex and Zoetis and hopefully more much needed new housing to attract and retain our great workforce.

Expect minor inconveniences with a robust construction season ahead – minor in comparison to the investment and future of our community.

The cost of providing and maintaining city services continues to rise and closely matches the Consumer Price Index (CPI) on a state and national level.

The common complaint I hear from constituents or read via social media is we don’t want our taxes raised. I, like all of my peers on the City Council, pay the exact same taxes as you do. While I don’t like to pay more, I do understand rising CPI and how that affects costs to provide and maintain services and, yes, the convenience we enjoy of those services.

In my third year on the City Council, I have heard a hundred times over to not raise taxes, yet out of those hundred times I have yet to hear from any constituents of a service they would like reduced or no longer want, to offset the rising costs.

Near and long-term ambulance service is my biggest concern and should be yours, too!

When we pick up the phone and dial 911 for a medical emergency we expect an ambulance to arrive quickly with the right personnel for the type of emergency. Response times in seconds and minutes to a stroke, heart attack or countless other urban and rural critical medical emergencies mean the difference between life and death.

Is providing ambulance service required? The answer is no. Municipal fire protection and rural fire districts are required under Iowa Code, as are city police departments and county sheriff’s offices, but there is no law requiring ambulance service. However, the state does allow a way for counties to create a dedicated funding source to support providing ambulance service.

The city and county are in year one of a three-year contract with American Medical Response (AMR). The current cost is $415,000. Year two will be $427,450 and year three will be $440,274 to provide 24/7/365 advanced life support (ALS) and basic life support (BLS) ambulance service countywide.

AMR provides a great service – the funding of the cost of subsidizing the service itself is the factor.

How often is ambulance service utilized? The number of calls for ambulance service continues to rise each year, which clearly outlines the need for continued same level of ALS/BLS ambulance service.

Last year, in 2023, there were 1,434 calls for service; in 2022 there were 1,318 calls, in 2021 there were 1,274 calls and there were 1,113 calls in 2020.

Currently those services are subsidized through the general obligation funds of the city and county, split 50/50, along with generous assistance from the Floyd County Medical Center to help offset the rising cost.

The city’s general obligation fund will be reduced over the next few years to comply with new state legislation, resulting in a heavy strain on the city budget and services provided today. Near- and long-term, the cost to subsidize ambulance service is not sustainable from general obligation funds.

A dedicated funding source is needed to support the current level of service.

The EMS tax levy question will once again be on the ballot this year, likely in November as part of the general election.

What does a “yes” or “no” vote for the EMS tax levy in Floyd County really mean? Voting yes, you are in favor of a dedicated funding source to continue providing 24/7/365 ALS/BLS ambulance service countywide.

Voting no or not voting at all means you are not in favor of a dedicated funding source to provide 24/7/365 ALS/BLS ambulance service countywide. With limited general obligation funds to work with, voting no or not voting means you are OK with future changes that may include limiting ambulance service based on available city and county funds.

Voting no or not voting also means you are comfortable with longer response times for ambulance service or a service that cannot meet your medical emergency needs.

If you intend to vote no or not vote and you live outside of the city limits of Charles City, ensure you are educated on the state of ambulance service within your community. Do you have one? If you do, can it sustain potential reduction of service funding near and long term, potential decline of volunteers in the future and provide you the same level of service today? The issue at hand is that serious.

At the end of the day, we are not alone with this complex issue. Many cities across Iowa and the nation are struggling to determine how to fund the best ambulance service at the best nominal cost to the taxpayer.

Regardless of how you vote, exercise your right to vote and know what your vote means rather than just checking a box.

Let’s enjoy 2024! Pay it forward by lending a helping hand to someone when you can and thank those that step up and volunteer in various capacities in the community that bring so much positive energy and fun to our great city.

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