City leaders deserve to hear input on proposed EMS plan

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Local residents have an opportunity next week to better understand the pending transition of countywide ambulance services as city leaders make plans to take over what has previously been a county-owned and managed operation.
After more than a year of debate and negotiations, county leaders voted in late January to sign an interlocal agreement which in effect makes the county a contributing partner rather than the sole provider. If all goes as planned, our community will have a city-run, fire-based EMS system very soon.
City leaders have come up with a rough-draft proposal for offering countywide EMS services, though the council decided not to sign the interlocal agreement until first hearing what the public had to say.
Two public hearings are scheduled for March 26 at City Hall, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The first will focus on the city’s EMS proposal itself, with the second earmarked as a request  for funds needed to provide ambulance service for the rest of this fiscal year. The proposed annual budget stands at approximately $850,000, with an amendment notice listed in this week’s edition requesting $426,290 for the rest of this fiscal year.
These hearings should be well attended, as was the city’s open house back in July when an initial draft of its fire-based EMS proposal was unveiled. Much has changed since then during final negotiations with the county, though many questions remain in what city leaders say is still a work in progress. Included in the list of questions that deserve answers are the scope of partnerships with other local entities as well as staffing and pay levels for paramedics and EMTs.
What we do know is that first-year operations will be paid for out of the city’s reserve funds, which though proposed as only a short-term solution still raises a red flag. Taxpayers deserve to know how the city plans to pay for this service going forward, and what that cost will be. City residents who will now bear a larger burden to fund EMS services should be paying attention to those conversations.
There has been a tremendous amount of discussion on this topic, much of it reflected in letters to the editor, on social media and in private conversations. However, elected city officials are the only people who have a vote on what the service will look like, so they need to hear directly what citizens like, dislike or don’t understand.
That time is now.
Kurt Johnson

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