N. Baltimore debates EMS future
Written by JORDAN CRAVENS Sentinel Staff Writer
Wednesday, 29 January 2014 10:43
NORTH BALTIMORE - Decisions on restructuring emergency medical service in the village and how to fund it were put on a temporary hold Tuesday night.
While change is imminent in the EMS department, be it moving to part-time pay for its current EMS volunteers, or bringing in an outside agency like Hanco or LifeStar, council members are considering multiple options for how to pay for it.
Council is considering a property tax, income tax or a mix of both on the May ballot. They are also exploring the option of holding off to put an EMS tax on the ballot for a special election in August, or the general election in November.
"This is the most important decision of this community - ever," said council member Bill Cameron. "You can't compare a $20 million sewer separation project to somebody's life. We've just got to get it right."
Council is expected to make decisions at its next meeting on Tuesday.
In advance of next week's meeting, council members moved forward on two resolutions to keep its options open for placing a levy on the May ballot.
They asked the Wood County Auditor to certify the millage amount for a new, five-year, 3-mill levy for EMS operations as well as a renewal of a five-year, 2-mill levy for street improvements.
If council chooses to hold off on putting the EMS levy on the May ballot, it is considering substituting the street replacement levy, which had been slated for the November election.
"I think everyone is of the opinion we have a problem and it needs fixed, but I don't think we are in a position to fix it at this point," said council member Leslee Thompson.
"How long are we going to wait until we fix this," responded council member Aaron Patterson.
Thompson replied, "We are trying to get all of our ducks in a row to get this fixed."
Problems with billing, adequate staffing levels and response times have surfaced in recent months.
"It's not the good ol' boys network anymore," Thompson said. "It has to be run like a business."
While no decisions were made Tuesday, Patterson questioned holding off a tax levy for EMS operations until later in the year.
"Is the EMS we have now going to survive until November? I don't believe it will," Patterson said.
"We run the risk of this whole thing collapsing in a couple of months," he said.
In the interim, the EMS department has contracted with an electronic billing/reporting system in an attempt to improve collection for services provided. The department has also moved to an online system in an attempt to better fill shifts.
Council members recently hosted two community meetings regarding the future of EMS in the village. Council member Janet Goldner, chair of the public safety committee, said the meetings were well attended and citizens had concerns about funding, moving toward outside agencies for EMS services and losing the history and tradition of the North Baltimore EMS. Citizens also felt council was rushing into a decision on its EMS department, Goldner said.