Fee change will keep SEOEMS without levy

Published 11:02 am Thursday, May 28, 2009

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the ever increasing cost of crime combined with stagnant county revenues and how this problem impacts SEOEMS, our publicly subsidized ambulance service.

There was talk of a property tax levy for SEOEMS, and among the commissioners, there was a great deal of concern about what the best course of action may be.

After much study, the county commission recently made a tough decision which will dramatically change the way our ambulance system will be funded.

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This decision will enable SEOEMS to continue operations, and will not require a property tax levy for the ambulance service.

Here is a brief summary of what we did. For many years, SEOEMS charged a discounted rate less than half of what most ambulance services charge. The reason this rate was so low was due to the fact that taxpayers subsidize about 42 percent of the operations.

However, with the cost of crime soaring, the county general fund simply could not afford to continue this subsidy to our ambulance service.

We decided that the best solution to this problem was to raise the ambulance rates closer to a market level, thus shifting the funding for SEOEMS from the taxpayers to the users of the system.

This shift will result in the taxpayers only subsidizing approximately 15 percent of SEOEMS operation, with a goal of full financial self sufficiency for our ambulance service in the near future.

Over the next months, SEOEMS will become much more financially self sufficient, thus freeing an estimated $800,000 or more per year that was previously used to subsidize SEOEMS to plug the budget shortfalls caused by the increasing cost of crime.

This shift in funding of the ambulance service is not the only major change the board of county commissioners has made already in 2009.

Early this year the county purchased a facility (funded mostly through grant dollars) which will house the County Group Home and enhance the county revenue stream for dealing with juveniles.

Also, just this month we have seen the results of our aggressive management of the county’s workers compensation program resulting in lower rates and a dramatic savings of nearly $150,000 from 2007.

These changes have been for the good, but as we look forward, there are still many financial challenges and opportunities for our county government to improve efficiency.

Issues such as consolidating the dispatching operations, improving the efficiency of criminal prosecution, improving the efficiency of our elections process and moving the Juvenile Court and Group Home to “IV-E” status all pose considerable financial and operational challenges to the commissioners and the officials in charge of these arenas of county government.

Your county government will continue to change with the ultimate goal of a financially stable, efficiently run, and reliable local government.

Jason Stephens is in his third term and is currently the Lawrence County Commission president. He can be contacted at stephens.jcs@gmail.com.