Supervisors agree to one-year extension with Lee County EMS Ambulance, Inc. for $900,000
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – County officials are breathing a little easier today after voting to continue the current ambulance service for an additional year.
The move was made as part of the Lee County Board of Supervisors regular meeting Tuesday. Supervisor Gary Folluo cast the lone vote in opposition to the move that was approved, 4-1. The motion also creates a path to the county taking ownership of the service.
At times 70 people were logged into the teleconference meeting.
After listening to a detailed presentation from Fort Madison Fire Chief Joey Herren regarding the joint effort from the Keokuk and Fort Madison Fire Departments to provide the service, conversation turned back to current provider Lee County EMS Ambulance, Inc.
Bill Young, the director of the ambulance service, said they want to do whatever they can to help the county bridge the gap from July 1, to whenever the county can take over the service.
Supervisor Chairman Ron Fedler said he’d been holding conversations with Young and Richard Young, another family member in the company’s investor group.
Fedler said the Youngs told him they were ready to continue the service, but they would need the $900,000 subsidy included in their proposal. But after the contract for another year was signed, Lee County EMS would begin to work with the county to transition ownership to the taxpayers.
Richard Young is also part of the ownership group that runs the Washington County EMS service, and that relationship is also transitioning to the county to take over operations, Bill Young said Tuesday.
“If we do a one-year contract, during that one year immediately starting when that contract’s approved, discussions would begin about the county taking over the service and that would be a long-term solution and we won’t have to worry about another contract with anybody,” Fedler said.
Young said the county would stay on and help as long as it takes for the county to get into position to take the service over.
Supervisor Gary Folluo pressed Young on financial statements the county didn’t receive last week.
Young said there was misunderstanding as to the requirements going forward as the county met with other providers, but he would provide those documents again going forward.
Supervisor Matt Pflug asked if the ambulance service was willing to help even if the county went with the city’s option for service.
“We’re not going to put the citizens in harm over something that’s been created by nobody’s fault. It has to change and we’re willing to work with that,” Young said.
Fedler said the board should also create a formal advisory board to oversee not only the Lee County EMS service for the next year, but also help with the transition.
Folluo asked Fedler if the county was now officially entering the ambulance business without knowing what the costs look like.
Fedler said the county couldn’t honor the request of the cities to provide service, and would have to bond for the $1.8 million the cities were asking for in start up costs. Those numbers could drop to $1.4 million, Herren said, if the county issued bonds to pay for ambulances.
As it stands, the county will have to come up with an additional $400,000 over what they originally committed for the next fiscal year’s subsidy.
County Budget Director Cindy Renstrom said she wouldn’t advise dipping into the reserves to pay for the city’s proposal. She said that could leave the county with a fund balance of $112,000.
“At this point, I don’t think we can even think about Fort Madison and Keokuk’s offer,” she said. “That would eat into our fund balance. If we paid that and we don’t get taxes until end of August, our fund balance would be about $112,000 and I don’t want it to get that low.”
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber said as hard as the COVID virus has been on operations, it has reduced budgeted expenses with most travel and training eliminated. The number of calls were also reduced at the department in the wake of the outbreak.
‘We still have two months left in this budget and COVID-19 has hit us hard, but it’s also been a blessing to the budget,” he said. “Revenues at the sheriff’s department are on track with estimations.”
Pflug pressed Young on whether the ownership would hit the county up for more money at a six-month review that’s built into the proposal.
“You did say there would be a review in six months. So you could say all of a sudden we need $500,000 more in six months – that’s what your saying.”
Young said that was the reason Lee County EMS asked for the increase.
“Anything is possible, but that’s not likely,” Young said. “We would try our hardest for that not to happen.”
Pflug also asked how much it would save moving dispatch operations to LeeComm. Young said roughly $125,000, but he said he didn’t want to be held to that number, and the current proposal includes keeping the dispatch operations with the ambulance service.
Young said calls for service are slowly coming back up after a 30% decline in April. With some possible rate increases he said that could help the ambulance service’s financial picture.
Fedler said his conversations with Richard Young indicated that if the ambulance service did better financially in the year they may not need to ask for the full $900,000.
Herren said he’s going to recommend that the city continue to look at providing the service now that they have a year to do more planning.
“With what happened today, now that we have a year to ease into it, I’m going to recommend that we continue to look at it,” Herren said.
“The county is going to look at doing something, but we don’t know that for sure. I think this is a temporary fix with that year extension.”
Herren said he doesn’t think county officials have been able to get passed the large initial funding needed.
“That big number worries the heck out ’em. It worries the heck out of us, too. But I just don’t think they understand that it will go down,” he said