Ambulance district: Can we lower our millage?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010 ~ Updated 4:09 PM

EUREKA SPRINGS -- Can the Western Carroll County Ambulance District (WCCAD) lower the millage so the tax burden on residents is less?

The commissioners will be looking into this question, they decided at their Jan. 19 meeting.

The ambulance district and 2 mill-tax to fund it were established by voters more than a decade ago. Under a contract with the City of Eureka Springs to provide ambulance service, WCCAD pays 85 percent of millage tax revenues to the city twice a year. It retains 15 percent to fund training, equipment and supplies for the western district rural fire departments' volunteer Emergency Medical Responders (EMRs).

Collections in 2006 were $186,000, and in 2007, jumped to $207,000. In 2008, they topped $216,000.

Last year, because of increased assessed values by the county of western district properties, collections were projected to top $249,000.

"The 85 percent will be going up to $106,000 per check to Eureka Springs," noted Commissioner John Dolce. "And it's projected to go up through 2012."

"Our monthly expenses are not even close to what we have left in the 15 percent (remainder)," said Chairman Mary Ann Schaefer.

WCCAD has $341,000 tied up in certificates of deposit. The remaining $143,000 is split between two checking accounts.

In 2008, WCCAD purchased Automatic External Defibrillators for all first responders, spending around $85,000. Those AEDs should be good for at least another 10 years. Batteries for the devices are supposed to last five years, but members of the EMR Alliance said they are only expected to last about three years. Batteries are expensive.

WCCAD approved a motion last month, 2-1, Schaefer dissenting, to purchase a Basic Life Support (BLS) ambulance for use in Holiday Island, which received more than 50 percent of the district's medical calls, due to an aging population.

Still, commissioners are examining whether expenditures necessitate retaining a two-mill property tax.

"It was set by election, so any changes we make would have to go back to the voters, and I don't think we need to do that right now," said Commissioner Chuck Olson.

The board agreed to table the issue until the commissioners have a full report on past and projected millage tax revenues.

In other business, WCCAD:

* Received equipment lists and EMR response reports. Commissioners were concerned about low EMR response in some areas, especially Hwy. 62 East and said that equipment should be taken from those are not maintaining an adequate response level. Ten to 12 new EMRs will be completing training in March and will need equipment, the Alliance reported.

* Heard Fire Chief Jack Deaton report bids for the new BLS ambulance can't be accepted because the bid specified a used unit, but a bid came in cheaper for a new unit. WCCAD agreed to table the matter and confer with the county judge about rebidding the ambulance.

* Heard Schaefer say an itemized report from WCCAD is supposed to be filed with the county in January of every year, but she could find no record of one filed since 2000. She said she will do a search at the courthouse and call a special meeting in February to go over what she finds.

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