In November, voters approved a mill levy increase for Delta County Ambulance District that more than doubled property tax revenues for the special district.
The 2018 budget jumped from $537,000 to $1.1 million, and has given the board of directors the flexibility to restore funding for personnel, equipment and maintenance, and to begin rebuilding reserve funds that were depleted during the lean years.
One of the top priorities was increasing compensation for DCAD's highly trained and dedicated providers.
DCAD manager Kirby Clock said every employee received a raise of 7.5 percent, to make up for a lack of pay increases over the past three or four years. In addition, paramedics and EMTs will receive pay increases based on responsibilities and capabilities. For example, DCAD plans to offer a class that will bring most paramedics up to critical care certification. In addition, some organizational changes will be made at the administrative level that could lead to increased responsibilities.
Clock explains that at one point, the ambulance district had a manager, an assistant manager and several captains. "The budget got so tight, those folks were never replaced when they left," Clock said. Now the ambulance district has just a manager -- Clock.
To ensure continuity and provide advancement opportunities for employees, the board is looking at a new administrative structure. Clock said a committee is being formed, comprised primarily of employees, to determine how the new administrative structure will look.
By increasing critical care capabilities for DCAD's paramedics, fewer patients will require air transport to larger medical facilities.
Some patients are flown to Grand Junction because of the time factor; some people fly because of the care factor, Clock observed.
"If we can provide the same level of care, it's much less expensive to be transported by ambulance than by helicopter or fixed wing," Clock said. "It's our goal to be able to provide that service."
About two-thirds of the increased revenue will be allocated for salaries and benefits; the remaining portion will help bring other budgeted items up to what Clock describes as "pre-cut" levels.
A new ambulance and a new heart monitor are both included in the 2018 budget, contingent upon DCAD securing grants to cover half the cost of both. A new ambulance runs $240,000; a heart monitor is $38,000.
A leading candidate for replacement is a 2003 ambulance with 350,000 miles that's used for interfacility transfers. It has, by far, the highest miles in DCAD's fleet, but has been extremely reliable, Clock said, so the ambulance district might also be looking at other models. "We have high mileage on quite a few ambulances, so that might force our hand," he said. Ideally, DCAD will be able to replace an ambulance every other year.
Catching up with payroll costs is another priority for the ambulance district. DCAD's payroll is handled by the hospital, which in essence has been providing a short-term loan to DCAD. "We're about two months behind," Clock said. "They've been very good to us."
Finally, rebuilding reserves will be a process that takes place gradually over several years. DCAD has survived since 2010 by drawing upon those reserves, proving how vitally important they are during the lean years. With the reserve funds depleted, DCAD was looking at cutting either payroll or hours of full coverage, both of which could have adversely affected response times.
"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," he said following the November election.