The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 31, 2012

Ottawa County voters to decide expansion of ambulance district

By Wally Kennedy

MIAMI, Okla. — Voters in Ottawa County will decide on Jan. 8 whether the tax base for the local ambulance district will be expanded from Miami to include all of the county.

The Ottawa County commissioners have approved two resolutions to place the measure before voters.

In Miami, voters will be asked whether they want the ambulance district to cover all of the county. Outside of Miami, voters will be asked whether they would pay a 3-mill property tax to make the service a countywide operation. Three mills is equal to three-tenths of a cent. A mill is $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessed valuation on real property

Voters must endorse both resolutions for the expansion to take place. Simple majorities are required for passage. They will be the only questions on the ballot.

Clint Epperson, ambulance service director for Integris Baptist Regional Health Center in Miami, said a county resident with a home assessed at $100,000 would see his property taxes increase by $38 annually.

The residents of Miami, he said, are already paying the tax.

“Nothing changes for the residents of Miami,” Epperson said. “If the resolutions pass, everyone in the county would pay the same to support the ambulance service.”

Residents of the county now pay $200 more for an ambulance call than those who live in the ambulance district, which is the same geographic area as the Miami School District. If the ambulance district is expanded, residents of the county no longer would pay the $200 surcharge.

Epperson said the ambulance district, now in its 34th year, has historically served residents throughout Ottawa County, though county residents have not financially supported the service, which is a joint effort of the Quapaw Tribe Fire/EMS and Integris Miami EMS.

The district’s EMS board, he said, is asking county residents for their support to allow the board to ensure that all residents of the county continue to receive ambulance service.

In 2011, the service responded to 3,150 calls. Of those, 61 percent were within the existing ambulance district and 39 percent were outside the district.

Epperson said the expansion is needed because of increasing costs associated with day-to-day operations, including fuel, supplies, maintenance and repairs, and because of declining reimbursements from Medicare.

“Costs are going up, and reimbursement is going down,” he said. “We need to unite as one countywide ambulance district to bridge the gap.”

The service lost more than $210,000 last year, Epperson said. Integris Baptist Regional Health Center covered the loss, but with so many cuts in health care funding, the hospital cannot continue to do so, he said.

The measures would increase the geographic area served by the district by about 55 percent. The service, Epperson said, has been able to reach almost any resident of Ottawa County in 15 minutes or less.

Expansion of the district would increase membership of the EMS board from five to seven members and give “all citizens of the county representation on the board,” Epperson said.

The district has seven advanced life support ambulances at four sites in the county, he said. Expansion of the district to a countywide operation would preserve the status quo. If one or both measures failed, major cutbacks could be in store, he said.

In addition, state statutes permit an ambulance service to not respond to service calls outside of a paid district.

Contact numbers

DETAILS ARE AVAILABLE from Sue Rendel, chairwoman of the EMS board, at 918-542-2092; Leon Crow, assistant chief of the Quapaw Tribe, at 918-533-4483, or Clint Epperson, ambulance service director for Integris Baptist Regional Health Center, at 918-533-7245.