From the Editor of FlatLander News Magazone
by DiamondV • • 0 Comments
Boundary Volunteer Ambulance Chief Ken Baker has done every resident of Boundary County a huge favor by petitioning County government to impose a taxing district for EMS services. Since 1965 BVA has been meeting the critical need for mobile emergency medical care in Boundary County. Chief Baker and his dedicated volunteers deliver service at such a level that City Administrator Stephen Boorman suggests they may be ‘victims of their own over-achievement’. Steve’s statement is an acknowledgement of the value of Boundary Volunteer Ambulance to our community, but at the same time sounds a cautionary note about the long-term sustainability of their current operating model. By approaching County Commissioners last September with a petition to form a taxing district, BVA are themselves sounding the alert – according to Chief Baker active BVA volunteers now comprise 10% or less of the total available manpower. The other 90% can no longer make the sacrifice necessary to continue to respond. This is just one measure among many which suggest that, one way or another, things have to change in the world of EMS in Boundary County.
If we concede (as most do) that something has to be done, then the question becomes what is it that we should do? Boundary Volunteer Ambulance proposes that the County Commissioners establish a taxing district under Idaho Code ¶31-3908. Commissioner Ron Smith agrees, telling FlatLander in a telephone interview that he “doesn’t see any other way we can fund this thing.” But further discussion with Chairman Smith suggests that not all other options have actually been exhausted. “We can, by law, impose an annual increase [in County taxes] of 3% plus an additional amount for new growth”, says the Commissioner. When asked how much that might amount to Smith indicates somewhere in the range of $90,000-$100,000. Smith also indicates that the current situation is not helped by the fact that BVA did not respond to Commissioners’ request that they participate in the annual departmental budgetary process that all County departments are subject to. “I asked them last year to submit a budget request and they failed to do so”, says Smith. “If they suddenly come to us asking for a huge increase we can’t necessarily fund BVA at that level, but if we don’t receive the budgetary request we can’t even consider it.”
Competing for funding from the County’s general fund isn’t the only option. Idaho Statute ¶39-3901 allows for the County to establish an ambulance service and to levy a special tax not to exceed .02%. No taxing district is required, as the statute gives the County authority to pay “out of any funds available”.
It’s worth noting that a careful reading of the statute indicates that the .02% levy of ¶31-3901 and the .04% taxing district levy of ¶31-3908 appear to be mutually exclusive, meaning that the County overall may only net a .02% gain in revenue from imposing a taxing district rather than the .04% incorporated into BVA’s figures.
There are still more options available such as establishing a membership-based service along the lines of existing volunteer fire departments. This model is already in place locally as in the case of Hall Mountain Fire Department.
At the first public hearing for the taxing district numerous residents showed up to testify to the Commissioners. A recurring theme emerged on the part of those opposed. Local resident Sid Brumbach summarizes – “there is insufficient data provided to support the creation of a taxing district.” In a lengthy written analysis submitted to the Commissioners at the hearing, Brumbach, himself an experienced emergency responder, asserts that Boundary’s population is insufficient to support the economics of an Advance Life Support ambulance service. Medically, Brumbach suggests that call volume data provided by BVA indicates “skill maintenance would be dubious at best.”
Brumbach is not the only local individual expressing concern about the data in support of establishing a taxing district. In response to questions posed by the Commissioners, Dr. Newhouse stated he “agrees with the need for hard data”, saying it would be “useful to have the numbers”.
Others have expressed operational concerns. Speaking candidly to FlatLander in a telephone interview this past week, local volunteer EMT David Wenk cited “a lot of inefficiencies and a lot of waste” in BVA’s current operations as reasons why he stated that “he hated to see another tax on property owners.” Wenk went on to say that his concerns were “not on an EMT-level” but that there were “a lot of unknowns” moving forward and suggested that BVA needed an Executive Director with managerial skills.
In the materials Chief Baker has graciously provided FlatLander for this editorial he concludes with an impassioned plea to Boundary County residents – “BVA has served this community faithfully for a long time – nearly 50 years. BVA is asking for this community’s support. BVA – and this community – needs the ambulance district. This community needs BVA. BVA is threatened and we need to act now to make sure it remains viable and can expand to serve our community’s growing needs.”
In this debate there’s one area of consensus – we have received outstanding EMT service from the volunteers at BVA. We need to support them wholeheartedly. What form that support takes in the future appears to be in question. Fortunately, the debate is right where it belongs – brought before the public for discussion and before an elected body (the County Commissioners) for a decision. We all benefit from this process, provided it is allowed to operate as it should. Everybody’s opinion needs to be heard and respected and the decision-makers need to assume responsibility for fully-informing themselves prior to making such a critical decision for the future of Boundary County.
On that note, Commissioner Dining made an excellent point at the hearing when he drew attention to the potential divisiveness of this issue. Certainly when people are given reason to believe they are wasting their time and energy in testifying at a public hearing because the evidence suggests the decision has already been made, or when taxpayers end up feeling that the people they elected do not protect their best interest because they have failed to make informed decisions, one understands how citizens could become frustrated and resentful rather than supportive. There will always be naysayers and uninformed opinions – the responsibility of our elected officials is to sort through ALL the input and make sense of it on behalf of everyone – not an enviable position when it comes to an issue as complex and risky as delivery of emergency medical services, but to do less would be a disservice to the entire community not the least of whom are the emergency responders themselves. We owe them, as well as ourselves, the legacy of a quality EMS organization in Boundary County and this is an opportunity to do just that. Let’s hope we do not squander it.