Tower sales could mean fiscal relief for SEOEMS

Published 10:51 am Thursday, July 15, 2010

It’s a decision that could bring much needed inflow of cash into the ambulance service that protects the residents of Lawrence, Athens and Jackson counties.

Tuesday night the board for the Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Services voted to sell the communication towers that connect the services’ radios and switch to the more economical MARCS system built and used by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

It’s a move that SEOEMS treasurer and board member Jason Stephens predicts could bring $1.75 million to the financially beleaguered ambulance service district.

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“Where SEOEMS is a conduit for the ambulance service, it only makes sense for us to make use of that asset to shore up that situation,” Stephens said.

Recently it was reported that financial woes had escalated for SEOEMS and that there was the possibility it could be dissolved.

“Even if you don’t get the $1.7 million, even if it is a lesser amount, it utilizes that asset and saves the taxpayers money,” Stephens said. “I think it is a solution that in the long term will help benefit. …It is a way to improve communication and move the system forward financially.”

SEOEMS Board Chairman Larry Payne recently said that the district owes several hundred thousand dollars in bills without enough revenue from patient runs to cover that amount.

Patient runs through June had been estimated to bring in $2.3 million. However actual income fell short by approximately $1.1 million.

“If we go to the MARCS system, the ambulance service no longer needs those six tower sites that the district owns,” Stephens said. “We don’t have to worry about the maintenance. We just pay the service fee.”

That service fee is expected to be $20,000 less annually than what the district pays for tower maintenance, he said.

MARCS is the Multi-Agency Radio Communications System that is a state initiative created after the Shadyside-Ohio River flood disaster in June 1990.

There 26 were killed and tens of thousands of homes in that southeastern city were destroyed.

A stopgap measure to help with current bills could come from a proposal where the three counties put a total of $385,000 into SEOEMS. Athens and Lawrence would each put in $154,000 with Jackson offering $77,000.

That would cover the June and July PERS payments, health insurance premiums for July and August and payroll for periods ending July 16 and July 30. The counties would be reimbursed for those sums from proceeds from the tower sales.

Each county must vote to make these onetime payments.

“The infusion will catch us up,” Stephens said. “It is very frustrating. Our fiscal officer wouldn’t tell us that (the bills) weren’t paid. We are working through those things. … If we can maintain the cash flow and catch everything up, we will avoid penalties on bills, it will keep the system operating.”