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Ambulance district breathes a sigh of relief

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A year ago, electors narrowly rejected a mill levy increase for Delta County Ambulance District (DCAD). The 2016 general election, which included a long slate of candidates for local, state and national offices, drew nearly 12,000 voters. Faced with the prospect of a reduction in services, DCAD's board of directors decided to take the question back to the voters.

This time, the DCAD request was the only question on the ballot, and just 6,236 were votes were cast. But efforts to educate those voters paid off -- just over 65 percent said yes to the 3.250-mill levy increase, which will give the ambulance district an additional $585,000 to work with in 2018.

DCAD manager Kirby Clock reacted with a sigh of relief. "Obviously we're thrilled and relieved. It's a whole lot nicer to work on a budget where we'll be able to do some good things, rather than figuring where to cut."

Clock said the board's budget committee would be meeting this week to begin prioritizing spending of the additional funds. The 2018 budget must be finalized by mid-December.

Clock said one of the biggest priorities will be catching up with the hospital, which provides billing services for the ambulance district. He would like to get back on track with periodic ambulance replacements; the most recent purchase was four years ago. He also wants to begin rebuilding reserves, which have been drained over the past several years. The ambulance district also terminated service contracts on its heart monitors. "Those are the kinds of hard decisions you make when you're trying to balance the budget," Clock said.

Most important of all, however, is giving staff members their first pay increases in four years. "We've been really worried about losing some of our quality people, which is going to happen if you're just treading water. They'll start looking elsewhere and you can't blame them."

The shift in voter momentum began immediately after the 2016 results were announced. "I can't count how many times people told me they couldn't believe it didn't pass," Clock said. "I think people were more engaged from that standpoint. I also like to think my presentations did a little bit of good, but I still reached just a small fraction of the voters."

The ambulance district also obtained letters of support from the Delta County Sheriffs Office, Delta County School District, City of Delta, Cedaredge Chamber of Commerce, Delta County Library District, North Fork Ambulance and Cedaredge Fire Department.

Clock said the mill levy is a big jump -- from 2.50 mills to 5.750 mills -- but is designed to help DCAD maintain emergency medical services at current levels for the next 10 years.

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