The North Fork Ambulance finds itself at a crossroads. With only about a third of the residents actually supporting the ambulance service through membership, the organization's board views the funding situation as unsustainable.
This year NFA is asking voters in the North Fork to approve a ballot measure, 7E, to form a special taxing district to provide a steady and sustainable source of revenue through property tax. A second measure, 7F, would establish a property tax mill levy to fund the special district.
During a presentation last week to Crawford Town Council, North Fork Ambulance director Kathy Steckel explained the need for a different structure for the ambulance, and for the mill levy to provide an adequate and sustainable funding source.
Steckel noted the NFA board has been working toward a special district since 2017. It has received permission to ask voters to form a special district from the three counties it operates in -- Delta, Gunnison and Montrose.
About one in three households support the NFA through memberships. Steckel said that while that level of voluntary support is exceptional, it is not enough to fund the growing need for service. She explained that NFA has three stations -- in Paonia, Hotchkiss and Crawford.
NFA utilizes on-call staffing to man its five ambulances. Steckel explained the actual demand for service does not justify the need for full time staffing. There may be days without a call, and then there are times like last month when in a period of 64 minutes it received five call-outs. The on-call staffing allows the flexibility to meet such a varying demand with trained personnel, who respond from home or work, handle the situation, and then go back to whatever they were doing before their pager sounded.
One way NFA is able to do so is through its quick response vehicles, staffed by a person who has received advance care training. It allows NFA to respond to an emergency with an ambulance manned by a driver and EMT and with a quick response vehicle with someone trained in advance care (ALS) to assess the situation, administer life-saving measures on scene and to set up the proper response to each situaton. The quick response vehicle goes home with the advanced responder when they are on call, allowing them to arrive on scene quickly. "It truly is a life-saving service," said Steckel.
She also explained NFA is not doing a membership drive this fall. However, members will receive a renewal notice and hopefully will renew. In the event the ballot measure fails, the membership is needed to keep the NFA funded. If the measure passes, the memberships will keep the service going through the transition time until the special district begins to receive tax revenue. (See the related release from the NFA.)
In response to a question, Steckle also explained why NFA purchased a building in Hotchkiss. NFA needed more space and initially considered renting office space. The cost was considered too high, so NFA approached the property owners and were able to arrange favorable financing to make it possible to purchase the building. It now is leasing space to an organization providing mental health services, offseting about half the cost of the building. It also provides plenty of space for NFA to conduct training without having to rent classroom space. "Buying the real estate was a good deal," said Steckel, "providing for our current needs while setting us up for the future."
She concluded by telling the Crawford trustees about a real situation where a collision between a car and a deer closed the highway. Dispatch called out the Delta County Sheriff's Office, Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the fire department and North Fork Ambulance. "Of all of the agencies to respond to this 2 a.m. call, the ambulance was the only non-publicly funded responder," said Steckel.
"Please, support the ambulance so we can be here to support you."