Fremont County Ambulance District seeking $410,000 levy to fund operations
ST. ANTHONY — Keeping an ambulance service operating in Fremont County isn’t cheap, and administrators say without a tax levy they can’t keep up with the demands.
“Our costs aren’t being matched by the revenue that we’re able to bring in,” Fremont County EMS Director Bert Mecham tells EastIdahoNews.com.
To offset the difference, the Fremont County Ambulance District is hoping voters will approve a permanent property tax levy that would raise some $410,000 per year to pay for ambulance operations. For the 2019-2020 fiscal year, homeowners have already paid $336,447 in property taxes to the ambulance district. The current property tax levy going to the ambulance district was set in 1996.
If the new levy is passed by voters during the upcoming Nov. 5 election, it would replace the old one and raise the amount of money the ambulance district receives from property taxes to around $750,000 per year, according to the Fremont County Clerk’s Office.
A homeowner with a property valued at $100,000 would pay $20.95 a year more than what they were paying previously. Their total property taxes that would go to pay for the Fremont County Ambulance District would be around $42 a year.
Mecham said one of the reasons they aren’t bringing in sufficient revenue is because of the regulations on Medicare and Medicaid. He said Medicare and Medicaid only pay half of what Fremont County EMS bills them. Medicare and Medicaid recipients make up around half of their patients.
He said it’s a similar story for patients with traditional health insurance. Health insurance companies slashed what they will pay for ambulance services, on average, by 47 percent, he said.
“Even though we raise our rates to try to accommodate for the revenue, it doesn’t match up because of what insurance has cut back,” Mecham said.
Another reason the ambulance district isn’t bringing in enough money is that there hasn’t been an increase in the levy amount since 1996, and operating costs have significantly gone up since then.
The ambulance district tried to pass a similar levy for $340,000 in the May election. The levy narrowly failed. It needed a supermajority vote of 66.6 percent but only received 65.06 percent. During the upcoming election, the new levy proposal will also require a supermajority vote.
Mecham said one of the concerns he’s heard about the levy from people is that it’s a permanent levy. He said they are asking for a permanent levy so they can have a long-term revenue stream. A short-term levy would only bring in a short-term influx of revenue.
“If it was just something where we needed one ambulance or we had one project to do, I could see us doing a levy for just a couple of years. But where it’s going to be a continuous thing, I’d rather see a permanent (levy) that takes care of it so we don’t have to try to levy multiple times,” Mecham said.
If passed, 15 percent of the money brought in by the levy would go toward building maintenance and construction. Five percent would go to updating and paying for handheld and vehicle radios.
Mecham said 27 percent will pay for the six ambulances in the district and all of the medical, diagnostic and safety equipment inside the ambulances.
Eight percent will pay for community service and education. Then 15 percent will go into an emergency reserve fund.
“That’s a pool that we can pull out of in case an ambulance goes down or something major happens,” Mecham said.
The final 30 percent will go to offsetting cost increases.
“The majority of what we’re asking for is going to go to offset our costs so that we are operating in the black instead of in the red,” Mecham said.