Lee County Ambulance can’t make current payroll obligations
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – Lee County Emergency Medical Services got a payroll infusion from the county on Friday after an emergency teleconference of the Lee County Board of Supervisors.
Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise said the county received a letter from the ambulance service indicating they were short $38,539 in payroll and health benefit payments for March, and according to their contract with the county, needed to inform the county of that situation.
By a unanimous vote, the board approved that amount, but Fraise said that would only get the ambulance service caught up for the next week.
Board Chairman Ron Fedler said he wants the city’s of Keokuk and Fort Madison involved in the conversation, and said both mayors Tom Richardson and Matt Mohrfeld have indicated they are willing to sit on a committee immediately to look at how to keep the service going until the new contract kicks in July 1.
The county has already committed an additional $50,000 to the ambulance service in the next budget.
Supervisor Gary Folluo said the letter indicated the ambulance service had writeoffs that surpassed more than half a million in medicaid services in 2019.
“We have to have some really firm conversations and a game plan in place by Monday. Next Friday they will have another payroll due,” Folluo said.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but it’s our obligation to keep an ambulance service for our citizens. Keep in mind that we do have a contract with LCEMS until June 30.”
Folluo also said the state doesn’t consider ambulance services as essential services under state code.
Lee County Emergency Management Agency coordinator Steve Cirinna said he’s been told if the services were considered essential they would have to be funded and that could be what’s holding legislation up.
Because the state doesn’t consider the services essential, the county can’t tax for the service as a separate line item, and the supplemental funding has to come from the county’s general fund
“If it’s an essential service its a separate tax line that would allows us to get more money. We’re putting quite a bit in, but the ambulance service needs a lot of money,” Larkin said.
Supervisor Matt Pflug asked how long the county can continue to offset the shortfalls.
“How long can we continue this, (money) isn’t falling out of the sky by any means. We’re not talking about small money here, but I understand we have to have an ambulance service, too,” he said.
There was some discussion with Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber about having some of the staff come in under LeeComm services. Weber said it’s a possibility, but additional training would be required.
Fedler said despite not being considered an essential service, the county has to step in and make sure there is an ambulance service for the county.
“This is an emergency and we can’t wait.”
Folluo said it was imperative that talks for the next week and going forward begin immediately. Fedler said there may have to be another teleconference next week when more additional payroll comes due for staff at Lee County EMS.
“We have to buy some time and keep the safety of Lee County residents in our minds. It’s a crucial time and we need to keep those employees we have right now.”
Fraise said State Sen. Rich Taylor has been working with state and federal legislators to see if some funding could be obtained through the response to the Coronavirus, since this would be for medical services, but she said those conversations are still taking place.