The Logan County Board of County Commissioners wrapped up their third special meeting concerning Emergency Medical Services on Tuesday evening inside the cafeteria at the Coyle middle school.
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In a March 4 commissioner meeting, City of Guthrie officials informed the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) they were in a shortfall of EMS funding and needed additional funding from outside their boundaries to help subsidize their services, or would consider removing their service outside of their district.
“I don’t know if the Guthrie city council is going to pull the trigger or not, but I think it’s our (commissioners) responsibility if they do to have a plan,” District 3 Commissioner Monty Piearcy said.
The Guthrie Fire Department provides EMS services and is funded by a 522 tax district. The district, whose boundaries mirror the Guthrie school district, is funded by a three mill ad valorem tax paid by property owners. That money is collected from the county and in return, paid to Guthrie EMS. However, Guthrie EMS has gone outside their boundaries for decades to towns such as Coyle, Langston, Meridian and Mulhall. Residents of these communities do not pay the three mill ad valorem taxes.
In 2010, House Bill 1888 passed and allows ambulance services not to go outside of their district. Prior to the legislation, the closest ambulance service had to respond. Related story: Video: Should all Logan County residents pay for EMS services?
Guthrie Fire Chief Eric Harlow said, “in a nutshell, those living in the Guthrie school district are paying for everyone else that we respond to (Mulhall, Langston and Coyle).”
On Tuesday, District 1 Commissioner Marven Goodman questioned the motive.
“It’s important to separate the facts from assumptions. The facts are the Logan County EMS-I has a half-million dollars in cash. Let that sink in. The Guthrie Fire-EMS reported their revenues exceeded expenditures this year, which means they made a profit. So, I really don’t understand the facts on why a city councilman says we no longer want to support an area other than some other issue that is going on.”
Harlow followed the commissioner’s statement by saying, “We did not make a profit last year. Our billing revenue exceeded what was budgeted because of our increase level of service (and) increase number of calls. The City’s general fund subsidized EMS to the tune of $840,174. That’s $840k that could have been spent for police officers, street repairs, ladder truck, park improvements, sidewalk improvements – anything a city spends money on. That’s a huge chunk of money that could have been spent, but we had to put it in EMS to shore it up.”
Harlow finished up by saying, “87 percent of that money we spent out of that fiscal year for EMS was $1.9M. We received almost $694k in billing revenue and our contract with EMS-I was $366,216.”
So what’s the plan?
County Clerk Troy Cole summed it up simply by saying, “So the question becomes, ultimately, what needs to happen to create a contracted service for an ambulance provider to the areas of the county that don’t have a contracted service.”
State law allows 522 EMS districts to be assigned by a municipality, school district or county-wide. Currently, Logan County is split up between three school districts (Guthrie, Crescent and Cashion). Each property owner within the three school districts pay three mills, which a $100,000 assessed home would be $30 per year.
The Coyle-Langston school district could have an election to create a 522 district and contract with a provider, but Coyle officials say a school district simply would not work.
“There is no way the Town of Coyle can support a stand-alone service,” Coyle Fire Chief Mike Galbraith said. “We will not make enough money, but the least concern is we give them some money. We know it’s not going to be enough to offset their budget, but they are getting something for coming to Langston, to Meridian, to Coyle.”
“It’s common sense that we need an ambulance service, so a county-wide (522 district) is probably the best route we can go. It assures us no matter how much your property is worth you’re going to have an ambulance service from somewhere,” Galbraith concluded.
If voters elected to go to a county-wide EMS district, the three mills would generate an estimated one million dollars per year. Currently, the Guthrie and Crescent EMS districts combined draw approximately just under $450k a year.
Meridian resident, Tenny Maker, who also serves on the Coyle school board, recommended a quarter-cent sales tax.
“It will generate more money than three mills on everyone’s property taxes. Put a responsible group of people over it to see how it is spent. Let Guthrie, Cashion and Crescent people put 522 money back in their pockets and catch money from everyone that travel or spends money in Logan County.”
Cole responded by saying, “currently a quarter-cent is generating approximately $900k per year. That is way, way down. That is the problem with sales tax that it fluctuates greatly.”
“To me, we’re making this a lot more complicated than it needs to be,” Phil Nichols said, whose wife works in the school district. “If you receive a service, you pay for the service.”
Coyle officials asked the commissioners to form a sub-committee of citizens to help move forward. The BOCC is scheduled next to meet on Dec. 7 for their regular scheduled meeting.