A packed house of supporters couldn’t convince the Day County Commission to reverse a recent decision to slash a subsidy for ambulance service by nearly 20 percent.
On July 17 the commission had voted 4-1 to cut the annual subsidy by $9,650. The board’s rationalization is that the county is in a budget shortfall mode given overwhelming road repairs due to flooding.
On July 24, the commission voted 3-2 to stay with the earlier decision, but not before hearing from Christensen Ambulance owner Mark Christensen and a number of his supporters. Christensen said he bought the ambulance service in 1978 and since then has made over 10,000 ambulance runs. He said the service has grown from a hearse and one high-top ambulance to five state-of-the-art units and a dedicated crew of more than 15 paid volunteers.
Christensen initially sought a six percent increase to the $49,650 he received last year. He based the increase on rising fuel, training and equipment costs and the fact that last year his subsidy was frozen. He noted the ambulance service generates a $10,000- $11,000 monthly payroll and warned that outside ambulance services are unlikely to step in without some type of support. Christensen also reminded the commission that even with a $51,114 budget, the cost for 24/7 countywide ambulance service only amounts to about two cents per person per day.
Several commissioners responded that this is “a budget issue and not about the level of service.”
“There’s only so many dollars to go around,” commented commissioner Linda Walters. “At least we’re not cutting you out completely.”
Walters reminded those in attendance the county is only talking about a cutback and not cutting out the subsidy. She also suggested one option might be to form an ambulance (tax) district.
Commissioner Rick Tobin pointed out that the ambulance isn’t the only service facing cuts. The board slashed $500,000 from the highway department’s 2013 request. Much of it—$300,000—came from rental line item, which is typically private contractor projects. Other areas facing cuts were the sheriff’s department, register of deeds, government buildings, elections, NESDCAP, soil conservation, weed control, and drainage.
A number of people in the audience spoke up at the July 24 meeting, all in favor of raising the subsidy or at least leaving it at its current level. The hospital and the ambulance play a role in new industry locating here, said Dakota Foundry representive Josh Bartos.
“This is more than a money issue,” commented insurance agent Mike Frederick. “How do you justify cuts when you’re upside down in a car like my daughter was two weeks ago?”