Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Tower Ambulance seeking to raise township subsidy payments

Jodi Summit
Posted 1/10/19

GREENWOOD TWP- The Tower Area Ambulance Service (TAAS) is asking area townships to double their $15 per capita ambulance subsidy starting in 2020, to $30. The city of Tower has already committed to …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Tower Ambulance seeking to raise township subsidy payments


GREENWOOD TWP- The Tower Area Ambulance Service (TAAS) is asking area townships to double their $15 per capita ambulance subsidy starting in 2020, to $30. The city of Tower has already committed to double their subsidy, effective in 2019.

Tower Ambulance Director Steve Altenburg attended the Greenwood Town Board meeting, Tuesday, to explain the reasoning behind the request, and to ask the township to put the question before residents at the upcoming annual meeting in March. The townships of Breitung (604 population taken from census data), Kugler (183), Greenwood (929), Vermilion Lake (278), Eagles Nest (239), along with the city of Tower (502), are all part of the ambulance district. The current subsidy in the three-year contract is set at $15 per capita, up from the $10 per capita in the previous three-year agreement. The current agreement runs through the end of 2019. Fortune Bay contributes a flat rate of $5,000 per year to the TAAS.

Altenburg said the Tower Area Ambulance Commission had voted unanimously on the increase.

TAAS receives a total of $46,025 each year through these subsidies, which are set aside to help fund the purchase of new ambulances, as well as to help with volunteer training costs.

Altenburg explained that the current subsidy amount is not sufficient to cover the rising cost of purchasing new ambulances. The subsidy program, he explained, began in 1988 and the rate was $7.24 per capita, with a scheduled ambulance replacement schedule of five years.

Right now the ambulance service has $108,164 in the rig replacement account, plus $46,025 in 2018 subsidies. The new ambulance that was ordered in December will cost $230,000, with another $20,000 for an accompanying cot. Altenburg said that would leave the service significantly in the hole when it comes time to replace a second rig in 2021.

“When I took over the ambulance service two years ago,” Altenburg told the board, “we knew that the ambulance subsidy, that helps buy the rigs, was behind, but no solid analysis of the financials had been done.”

Altenburg said that Tower Clerk/Treasurer Linda Keith put together a spreadsheet that showed the service would be about $285,000 in the hole by 2028 with a rig replacement schedule of seven years at the current subsidy, but that with the increase to $30 it would show a positive balance of $128,664. The analysis also took into account the fact that in the future, with the purchase of ambulance rigs with a re-mountable box, the replacement cost would fall significantly since the re-mountable box can be reinstalled on a new chassis, which would reduce the cost of a new rig by about $135,000, he said.

“Right now, we are so far behind,” Altenburg said, “looking at this increase seems shocking on the surface. But that’s where it should have been, building up over the years.”

“Thirty dollars seems like a lot,” he said, “but in reality, what you pay per capita for fire, what we pay for police in Tower, far exceeds what we pay for the ambulance.”

Altenburg also talked about the rapid increase in costs for new ambulances, and the shrinking value of older rigs. In the past, TAAS had purchased ambulances on a five-year replacement schedule, and was easily able to sell its old rigs.

“We paid $150,000 for the last ambulance,” he said, “and $130,000 for the one before that.”

Altenburg said TAAS is now keeping ambulances for longer periods, as long as they remain reliable. He said the service struggled this past spring when their two rigs went down, due to problems with contaminated bio-diesel. The service put their old rig, which they had been unable to sell and just had put in storage, back in service while the main two rigs were being repaired, at a cost of $15,000. The new rig will have a gasoline engine, Altenburg said.

Greenwood resident John Bassing asked Altenburg how many ambulance miles were for emergency medical calls versus voluntary transfer runs.

Altenburg said they had no way to tell except by going through run records by hand.

“Things have changed massively in the last ten years,” he said. “The service cannot last with just volunteers with over 300 calls a year.” Altenburg said that TAAS had transitioned to a paid on-call system.

“Those transfers are what is paying for that,” he said, “and making us enough money, this year, to spend an extra $50,000 on equipment.”

“We don’t make a lot of money off the medical calls,” Altenburg said, explaining that most are covered by Medicare or Medicaid, with limited reimbursement.

“The transfers pay for everything,” he said.

Altenburg said an average transfer from Virginia to Duluth would net the service $1,300.

Bassing asked if Altenburg was worried that the number of transfers would decrease now that Virginia was hiring four new EMTs and planning on handling more transfers. Altenburg said that they had turned down over 100 transfer requests this year, and with the consolidation of medical services in Duluth, expected transfers to continue to be an important part of the service. He explained that the department only accepts transfer calls, which are voluntary, if there are local personnel available, as well knowing there are other local EMTs available in town for any medical calls that may come in while a transfer is underway.

Chairman Mike Ralston asked if the department was looking to add paramedics, who can administer a higher level of care than EMTs. Altenburg said the new rig that has been ordered is equipped with medicine vaults, which are used by the paramedics, but no plans were in place to add paramedics, though it was a long-term goal for the department.

“It’s a financial jump,” he said.

Other business

In other business the town board:

 Heard that the township errors and omission insurance from Western World actually is covering all the costs associated with the claim filed by Jeff Maus. The notice that they had stopped that coverage was sent in error, they told the township. Supervisor Carmen DeLuca also told the board that the Minnesota Association of Townships insurance trust has decided to begin covering the township’s errors and omissions coverage when they reapply for insurance in the coming year, which means that the supplemental insurance will not be needed.

 Approved the second reading of the updated Paid On-call and Standard Operating Guidelines for the Greenwood Fire Department.

 Accepted a $1,000 donation to the fire department from the Horsman family and a $500 donation to the fire department from the Bidle family.

 Heard that the fire department had purchased a set of used radios and outfitted them with new batteries.

 Heard that Scott Kregness has requested his pension for 23 years and seven months of fire department service.

 Supervisor Byron Beihoffer along with John Bassing both expressed interest in participating in the Tower Broadband Project.

 Will donate $100 to the Cook Library.

 Township filings close Tuesday, Jan. 15. So far Carmen DeLuca (incumbent) and John Bassing have filed for the open supervisor seat, and Pam Rodgers (incumbent) has filed for the treasurer seat.

 Appointed Kathy Lovgren and Colleen Lepper to the absentee ballot board.

 Will send a sympathy card to the family of Tom Rukavina.


2 comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

I think its great that many retirees are be able to spend winters down South. I also think that Township elected officials or ‘employees’’ should not be eligible to hold those positions, and be paid while out of state.. There is no reason we should be paying snowbirds. The treasurer and the safety director need to find another outlet for their time. Meals on wheels?

Thursday, January 10
Pam Rodgers

Apparently deplorable isn't familiar with working remotely. I actually work more while I am in Florida than I do when I am on site since it is busier during the winter months filing payroll tax returns, year end worker's compensation reports, working on the budget, finalizing the year end numbers, preparing for the annual meeting and board of audit. The other months don't require much of my time. My deputy reads the report I prepare at the meeting, signs checks, and does the banking for two months of the year. She made less than $1000 last year, while the deputy clerk made almost twice that filling in for the clerk during her absences.

Maybe deplorable would like to step up and run for the position since he/she knows everything about it.

Monday, January 14