Mill levy increase sought for EMS

By Pat Sunderland


This week, the Delta County clerk and recorder's office mailed 13,728 ballots to residents of the Delta County Ambulance District (DCAD), plus another 947 to property owners for a total of 14,675.

DCAD has been reaching out to as many voters as possible in Delta and the Surface Creek through a series of community meetings addressing the mill levy question on the ballot.

Voters are being asked to approve a mill levy increase of 3.250 mills, which would increase tax receipts an estimated $585,050 in 2018. The mill levy is currently 2.5 mills, the level approved by voters when the special district was formed in 1999.

In a YouTube presentation available at www.dcadems.com, DCAD manager Kirby Clock explains the mill levy proved insufficient almost immediately. It was based on an assumption that Cedaredge residents would continue to be served by a volunteer crew supported by the Town of Cedaredge.

Instead, Cedaredge went to the same level of 24/7 staffing that was provided in Delta with support from Delta County Memorial Hospital.

There was another reason the mill levy was set at 2.5. The ambulance service in Cedaredge was funded by an annual subscription fee that was roughly equal to 2.5 mills.

Today, the ambulance district operates two stations, one in Delta and the other on Highway 65 between Cedaredge and Eckert. Each station has round-the-clock coverage from two crew members. A third crew is on duty from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. primarily for interfacility transfers. That crew also provides backup services.

Clock said every staff member is Advanced Life Support (ALS) certified and trained to respond to any type of medical emergency, from heart attacks to overdoses to breathing difficulties. They can provide many of the services available in the emergency room within minutes of response. Additionally, they relay information to emergency department personnel so they're ready to take over as soon as the ambulance pulls into the bay.

It's become increasingly difficult to maintain this level of service, Clock explains. Over the past four years, reserves have been depleted. Without a property tax increase, service may be provided by on-call crews during nighttime hours, which would drastically increase response time. Additionally, Clock said, reduced hours or reduced pay would cause DCAD's best providers to look for other employment.

The cost of ambulances and emergency equipment continues to escalate, while reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid pay for only a portion of the cost of providing service.

Clock explains that 58 percent of DCAD revenue is generated through property tax, and that amount is decreasing due to lower valuations and changes in residential assessments.

On the flip side, the Affordable Care Act has increased the number of residents eligible for Medicaid. Medicaid pays about 13 percent of what is now billed; Medicare covers 46 percent. Clock says 66 percent of the population in Delta County is on either Medicare or Medicaid. Both pay only a fixed amount, regardless of the cost of providing service.

"That's why our average collection is less than 50 percent," he explained.

And it explains why raising rates does not result in a corresponding increase in revenue. "Last year we raised our rates by 8 percent, which should have generated $161,440, but actually generated $27,339."

The gap continues to grow between revenues and the cost of providing services, despite recent efforts to decrease operating costs by reducing expenses for transportation, education and vehicles.

The most sustainable revenue stream is from property tax, which is why DCAD believes it's justified in requesting a 3.250 mill levy increase. "This mill levy was calculated to allow us to survive for the next 10 years," Clock said, and would amount to just $23.40 for every $100,000 of residential property value annually.

Additional information concerning DCAD's annual budget are available on the district's website, www.dcadems.org. A tour of Station 2 at 1126 Highway 65, Eckert, is also planned Tuesday, Oct. 24, from 2 to 4 p.m. District personnel will be available to answer any questions.

Ballots may be returned by mail, to 24-hour drop boxes outside the Cedaredge Library and the Delta County Courthouse, or to the clerk and recorder's office during business hours Monday-Friday. To verify your voter information, go to www.govotecolorado.com.