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TOWER- What will the Tower Area Ambulance Service (TAAS) look like in the next few years? An ad-hoc committee formed by the Tower Ambulance Commission has been looking into options, and cost …
TOWER- What will the Tower Area Ambulance Service (TAAS) look like in the next few years? An ad-hoc committee formed by the Tower Ambulance Commission has been looking into options, and cost estimates, to ensure the department is financially stable in the coming years.
While the idea of adding 24/7 Advanced Life Support (ALS) and paramedic services has been discussed, the group said the costs of such a move, estimated by Cook’s ambulance director to be over $300,000 per year, make that option unrealistic.
“A better alternative for townships like Greenwood that want this coverage is to consider funding a local paramedic as a first responder at the scene and then rides with TAAS to the hospital.”
The ad hoc group, consisting of elected officials from the city and townships that are part of the ambulance service area, has been meeting since last fall. Greenwood Township opted not to participate in the group, instead funding their own study of ambulance service options, which was set to be completed in December, but the final report has yet to be released.
The ad hoc group released their draft report last week. The report outlined six options, and also noted that if the outside study currently being funded by Greenwood Township comes up with a better plan that all the involved communities approve of, then that may be become the plan that is adopted.
But for now, the group decided the most viable option was reorganizing the ambulance service under a joint powers agreement where Tower no longer has ownership, and the service is run by a new partnership of the participating townships and the city.
This would mean more costs, work, and responsibilities for the greater area. Costs would increase because currently Tower provides supervision, audit services, and helps subsidize staffing because the city allows its current staff to cover some paid on-call time as part of their regular duties (saving the ambulance department that payroll cost).
The draft notes that this option would require a strong leadership position and an active joint powers board. The leadership responsibilities would need to include business manager duties, which are currently handled by the city of Tower, not the current ambulance director. The board would also need to do their own grant writing, handle the audit process and insurance costs, and basically function as a stand-alone nonprofit.
Funding a joint powers arrangement could be handled by either increasing the current per resident contribution, or creating a tax district based on property values (to replace the current subsidy arrangement). Raising an additional $130,000 a year would require either increasing the per capita subsidy to $32.50, or a tax levy of approximately $11 per $100,000 of market value (based on estimates from the county auditor). If Greenwood does not participate in the tax district, according to the draft report, the tax levy would need to be $30 per $100,000 in market value.
Another option reviewed included doing nothing, but noted that according to annual audits, the service is losing from $90,000 to $113,000 a year, with the deficit mostly due to revenues not covering depreciation of both the ambulance and other expensive required equipment. The audits have also found that department expenses are higher than in the past due to the paid on-call (POC) rates and the state requirement to provide 24/7 coverage. The draft states that reducing the payroll and POC rates would risk losing staff, missing calls, and possible loss of life.
Another option would be for the city to maintain ownership of the service but have the service area contribute more to cover the overall cost of equipment. But the draft notes that the entire community is not supportive of giving more money without more control over the service.
Other options briefly discussed included combining services to create a larger service, hiring a private company to run the service, or creating a new regional service. But none of these, at least at this time, are viable options according to the report.
Members of the ad hoc committee included elected officials from each of the participating governmental units in the ambulance service area: Kevin Norby, Tower; Chuck Tekautz, Breitung; Frank Sherman, Eagles Nest; Frank Zobitz, Vermilion Lake; Julie Suihkonen, Kugler; Jeff Dam, Bois Forte. Barb Lofquist, Greenwood, only attended the final meeting.
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