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Voters reject tax increase for ambulance

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Voters in the Delta County Ambulance District voted down a proposed mill levy increase DCAD officials said is critical to maintaining coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

The final tally was 5,388 for; 6,163 against, a difference of 775 votes.

Board president Tom Huerkamp said the results are disappointing, but not unexpected.

The ambulance district had asked voters for a property tax increase of 2.5 mills, which would have doubled the current property tax assessment.

"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.

"I am disappointed that our community doesn't realize that in their time of need, the first step in medical services will frequently be the ambulance and our staff," Huerkamp said after the election. "Because of the rejection, we will be revising our budget for the coming year to try to make our revenues match our expenditures and while we haven't finalized it, it's probably going to involve reducing fulltime 24/7 staffing at our stations."

That means some hours of the day, EMTs could be placed on call, which could increase response times. "When our EMTs are on call, they get much lower pay than when they're at the station," Huerkamp said. "If they don't get called out, we save a whole bunch of money on that shift."

Huerkamp said overtime may also be eliminated. The details are being worked out by a budget committee, which is tasked with trimming nearly $190,000 from the 2017 budget. A draft will be reviewed by the entire board at its December meeting.

"The bottom line is, we operate very efficiently as far as supplies, equipment, administration, all of that," Huerkamp said. "It's ridiculously small. Some 85 percent-plus of our total budget is payroll for staffing 24/7, 365. If people want to wait an extra 20-30 minutes for the ambulance, that's where we may be headed."

District manager Kirby Clock thanked all those who voted for the mill levy, and asked for input from those who voted against the measure.

"We understand that tax increases are difficult, but believe that our ambulance service is a vital part of the community," Clock said in a Facebook post.

Clock said DCAD plans to go back to the voters at the next opportunity.

Huerkamp believes it's a matter of sharing the district's compelling story with more voters in the Delta-Surface Creek areas. He believes those who are armed with the facts recognize the need for additional funding to maintain the level of service currently provided by DCAD.

"We support our community and will continue to provide quality emergency medical services," Clock said.

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