BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – State Rep. Martin Graber said during a regular monthly legislative update that a bill creating an essential services designation for the state’s public-run ambulance services may not be necessary in Lee County.
During the monthly virtual legislative luncheon held Friday, Graber (R-Fort Madison) said his initial data on the Lee County Ambulance is that the projected revenues appear to be enough to pay the expenses, but it’s important that they be labeled essential.
“One thing I would say though is that if you look at the potential cost to Lee County to have the ambulance service and the projected revenues, it looks like it’s pretty close to paying for itself. This bill isn’t a necessary thing. But just like police and fire, ambulance is an essential service.”
The bill, which seemed to have support in the 2020 session, was pulled from a vote at the last minute last year, and now it seems that the bill may be in question again.
The bill would allocate state funds to offset short reimbursements in Medicare/Medicaid billing to help public run ambulance services stay solvent. Lee County is just two months away from taking ownership of the Lee County Ambulance service on July 1.
State Sen. Jeff Reichman said he approached Senate leadership on Tuesday about the legislation.
“I went to leadership on Tuesday with this and asked what the heck is going on and stressed how much that is needed in rural communities,” he said.
“We need a hospital and it’s essential we have the means to get someone there when they need care.”
Reichman said leadership told him they were looking into where the bill is now, but he said next week that won’t be a good enough answer.
“We’ve still got a few weeks and ‘I’m going to look into it’ was a good enough answer, but next week I’ll expect a better answer.”
Graber encouraged constituents to keep sending emails to the senate in support of the measure to continue pressure for the bill.
Lee County Supervisor Garry Seyb Jr., asked what the hurdles were to getting the bill passed. Reichman said the only challenge is getting the bill on the calendar and they haven’t released the debate schedule for this week.
The past session area legislators including former State Sen. Rich Taylor, State Rep. Joe Mitchell and former State Rep. Jeff Kurtz all said they were surprised the bill never made it to the floor for a vote.
“Whether it’s being held hostage or it’s not enough of a priority I don’t know because I don’t know that side very well,” Graber said.
Mitchell was not on the call with the other legislators Friday.
Reichman and Graber also discussed a bill that would put sunsets on Tax Increment Financing programs in the state.
Keokuk City Administrator Cole O’Donnell submitted a statement asking the two to reconsider the sunsets on slum and blighted development projects which are critical to the economies of rural areas of the state.
Graber said the bill has passed out of committee, but said the legislation doesn’t prohibit local governments from reapplying for TIF funding at the end of the first 20 years of a project.
“You can turn around and reapply. The difference at that point would be the value that would be set on the project,” Graber said. “But people in favor of this bill say your taking money out of school districts and those kinds of things. There was a project in Pella that is indefinite and may never come back on the tax rolls.”
Reichman said he wasn’t sure where the bill was.
“The House took it up and I’m not sure where it’s at. It’s not showing here as being passed and we haven’t seen it yet,” he said.
“But to Martin’s point, in the 20 years there’s gonna be a change to that. Yeah, it makes it tougher, but like everything else, there’s someone out there that’s abusing the process and this is another check to prevent that from happening. I don’t really like it.”
The two also discussed the pending election bill, which both seemed to think would allow for a second ballot box to be placed at the South Lee County courthouse. Lee County is the only county in the state with two courthouses and there was a question as to whether the new bill would allow the county to have two ballot boxes under the new proposed rules.
Graber said he thinks the session will wrap up by April 30, with just a few things being “left on the doorstep”.
“We’re pretty much on track to get priorities passed on the House side,” he said.
The two also discussed broadband expansion and property tax backfills and said there are still heavy debates taking place on both initiatives.