Voters to decide

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ambulance fund increase needed

OREGON COUNTY -- April 3 is General Municipal Election day in Missouri. The Oregon County Ambulance District is asking voters to authorize an increase up to 30 cents per $100 assessed valuation starting this year.

The current operating revenue is based on the original collection rate set in 1974 at 14.06 cents per $100 valuation generating an annual income of approximately $97,000 for the past five years.

Providers of emergency medical services say Medicare billing changes are causing losses they are unable to absorb.

According to Oregon County Ambulance board member Laird Kelly, this year the ambulance district is contracting with Ozarks Medical Center (OMC) in West Plains to provide personnel to man two Advanced Life Support (ALS) Ambulances on a 24 hour basis. They will be located at Alton and Thayer.

Kelly said the cost of this service would be $100,000 a year.

"Other related operating costs such as dispatch fees, insurance, county fees, and other expenses results in a $23,500 shortfall over the estimated annual income for the ambulance district for this year," Kelly said.

Kelly said in an attempt to provide better service at a lower cost, the ambulance district board voted to advertise for bids for services in August 2006.

"This generated some interest and after interviews with several companies. Ozarks Medical Center again provided the most attractive bid for a contract," he said.

He said providers estimated personnel costs per 24 hour shifts annually to be $210,000 per ambulance, $420,000 for two crews, 24 hours a day.

Kelly said under the current contract the district provides ambulances, housing, dispatch, utilities and OMC provides staff to maintain the two 24 hour ALS ambulances. OMC further handles all personnel matters, hiring, firing, and discipline of employees. OMC also handles and collects/receives all customer billing to offset personnel costs.

"The current law allows the Oregon County Board of Directors to set the amount of levy in August for the following year based on expected budget considerations. Historically, the district has set the rate for less than the maximum in the 1990s," he said.

Kelly said currently, an Oregon County residence valued at $50,000 requires a tax of $13.35 for ambulance services per year. A $100,000 home is taxed at $26.75 to fund ambulance services for a year.

"Interviews with similar sized counties in Missouri reveal they are and have been able to collect 30 cents per $100 evaluation. Some collect much less than the maximum allowed by voters. Currently Ripley County collects 12 cents and is authorized to collect 30 cents," he said.

Kelly said if the ambulance district should need a new ambulance the average cost of one is $78,000. "This additional cost might require a higher rate. If budget estimates are low for the following year, the board could set a lower rate based on demand," he said.

Kelly said funding the ambulance district on a 1974 budget cannot sustain the level of emergency services required for the safety and well being of the citizens of Oregon County.

"No one likes to pay more for services. The district strives to cut costs and provide quality service. The ambulance board meets every third Thursday and the public is invited to attend any meeting," he said.

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