Calling for Help

Published 11:06 am Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Would you support a levy to pay for ambulance service in Lawrence County?

A group of concerned citizens is circulating a petition, seeking to place a two-mil levy on the ballot that would provide a dedicated source of funds for ambulance service.

Right now ambulance service through Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Services (SEOEMS) is funded by a half-percent sales tax that was enacted more than a decade ago.

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That half-percent sales tax generates approximately $2 million a year and was initially meant to pay for 911, ambulance service and the county’s emergency management agency.

But with county revenues dwindling and expenses increasing, the commission has in previous years relied more and more heavily on that sales tax for other general fund needs, the sheriff’s office among them.

State law does not require the county to provide ambulance service and some counties do not.

The commission recently required groups that want to put a levy on the ballot to first circulate a petition and see if there is enough public support for the idea.

Terry Dolin, a SEOEMS paramedic, is one of the people passing that petition. He said such a levy would bring in $1.4 million a year (the rest of the roughly $3 million operation is paid for by those who actually call for an ambulance).

Dolin said the alternative to a government funded ambulance service is private ambulance service, which he says may not be as reliable as what SEOEMS offers.

“Most of the public do not realize the there are three levels of EMTs,” Dolin said.

“The first, paramedic advanced life support (ALS). The second, intermediate, can give some but not all cardiac drugs, and the third, basic, can do basic life saving skills with no cardiac monitoring.

“Your current EMS system has a paramedic on every truck, you always getting a paramedic and have done so for the last 37 years, and will continue to do so with SEOEMS. No private service in our area runs all ALS ambulances,” Dolin said. “And all private services do transports to doctor’s offices. Will they be available or will they be on a transport to the doctors office when you need them?”

Dolin said the cost to most home owners with a $100,000 home would be approximately $5 a month.

SEOEMS Executive Director Eric Kuhn said the levy would alleviate some of the burden EMS service has placed on the county general fund and would free up monies from the half-percent sales tax for other needs.

Kuhn pointed out that Lawrence County’s tax rate is the lowest in the state and while nobody likes to pay taxes, providing the services Lawrence Countians is requiring more money.

“What it boils down to is, do we want quality EMS and do we want quality 911 and do we want a quality sheriff’s office? As a Lawrence County resident, I want these things,” Kuhn said.

The other two counties in the SEOEMS district, Athens and Jackson counties both have levies such as this, Kuhn said.

The SEOEMS budget is divided by county with each county paying a portion of the cost of operating the headquarters and then the cost of its ambulance service. The actual inventory of ambulances and substations in each county is owned by that county.

Dolin said, as of Monday, 1,200 signatures had been collected; 4,000 are needed. Those who want to sign the petition may contact any SEOEMS substation.