Levy ‘answer’ still has flaws

Published 10:33 am Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It looks more and more likely that Lawrence County voters are going to be asked to vote for a tax levy to fund the continued operation — and even growth — of the Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Services.

The county commissioners have asked the auditor’s office to certify the amount of revenue it will generate and this will be discussed in upcoming weeks.

Although Lawrence County citizens are certainly going to have to pony up more money at some point if we want to maintain the quality of life and services we enjoy, this particular answer seems to have too many problems.

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First, it appears unlikely that it will be approved by voters. Lawrence County voters have been pretty clear they do not want to support additional taxes, even to maintain important services like ambulance and the sheriff’s office, which is what this would do.

The commissioners need to be clear with the public exactly what the alternatives are if this isn’t adopted. It will likely mean the ambulance service may become less efficient and the sheriff’s office will be remain undermanned, as the other money problems mount as well.

The second major flaw is that this levy requires property owners to foot about 45 percent of the bill for a service that most will never utilize. This is unfair and inequitable. While the county did raise SEOEMS rates last year to address this problem, we feel that it should be funded more by those who utilize the services.

A third concern is that there is already a funding source in place for SEOEMS: the half-cent sales tax. That was pitched to the public in the 1990s as being for emergency services and the plan was clear that it would be used for ambulance systems.

Over the years, as revenue dropped and expenses — especially the cost of fighting crime — increased, a portion of this money has been diverted to the sheriff’s office and other general fund needs.

To maintain the quality of life we value here in southern Ohio, tax payers are going to have to decide what they are willing to sacrifice or to step to the plate and pay more but we aren’t convinced that this ambulance levy is the right answer.