Voter support sought for ambulance

By Pat Sunderland


The Delta County Ambulance District has steadily been depleting its reserves, even though run volume is increasing. Kirby Clock, ambulance district manager, says the reason is straightforward: Delta County has an increasing number of patients who are on Medicare and Medicaid, which pays a fixed amount for services. Despite periodic rate adjustments, the amount of the ambulance district's write-off continues to grow -- and to eat into reserves.

To help close the gap, the ambulance district is asking voters for a property tax increase of 2.5 mills, which would double the current property tax assessment.

For residential homeowners, the increase averages $30.09 annually. Commercial establishments will pay an additional $231.68 per year.

"The board has struggled with this issue for the last two and a half years," said board president Tom Huerkamp. The board, staff members and consultants worked together to create a 10-year plan that not only maintains current 9-1-1 coverage, but also provides a structured plan for ambulance and medical equipment replacement, as well as a contingency fund.

"We've got an exceptional ambulance service here with exceptional staffing and I don't want to see that diminish," Huerkamp said. "It's a big increase but I think it's a justifiable increase."

Without the mill levy increase, the district may have to reduce staffing, which will result in longer response times.

"If we have to go to putting people on call and they're 10-15 minutes away from the station, we've got to get them awake, get them in their vehicle, get them in the station, and get them in an ambulance," Huerkamp said. "That could add 15 to 20 minutes to every call and if you need us, 15 to 20 minutes is a heck of a long time."

Currently, the ambulance district has two ambulance stations, one in Delta and the other along Highway 65 in Orchard City. Both stations are staffed 24/7 with crews capable of providing Advanced Life Support (ALS). The district has six ambulances and two quick response vehicles.

The Delta County Ambulance District encompasses the western side of Delta County, from six miles east of Austin to the western boundary of Delta County.

In 2014, Clock explains, the ambulance district added a crew primarily for safety reasons. "Our people were working too many hours straight," he explained.

Unfortunately, the additional crew impacted the ambulance district budget at the expense of equipment and ambulance replacements. "We made some corrections in 2015, but there's still a gap," Clock explained, "and we will run out of fund balance at the end of this year."

DCAD currently operates on a $1.6 million annual budget. The project shortfall for 2017 is nearly $300,000.

Property taxes account for 32 patient of the district's revenue; the remainder is patient fees.

Many doctors, because of the Affordable Care Act, have stopped taking Medicare/Medicaid patients, Huerkamp said. "We don't have that option."

Huerkamp believes the ambulance district board has come up with a very responsible approach that looks way into the future. "We don't want this to come up again for a long time," he said.

The question to voters is, "What do you want?" Huerkamp said. "Do you as a community want the level of emergency medical services we provide? If you think the ambulance is important you vote yes. If you don't, you vote no."