City votes to withdraw from EMD district

(Posted Sept. 17, 2018)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

London city council members voted on Sept. 6 to withdraw from the Madison County Emergency Medical District (EMD).

The resolution passed as an emergency measure, meaning council voted on the legislation on its first reading rather than hold the usual three readings over the course of three meetings. Both the vote to suspend the three-reading rule and the vote to withdraw from the EMD passed 6-1. In each case, council member Henry Comer cast the lone “no” vote.

Council also suspended the rules and passed a resolution requesting non-collection of the 3-mill tax levy that funds the services the city receives from the EMD. Again, the vote was 6-1 with Comer voting “no.” The withdrawal and the non-collection will go into effect Jan. 1, 2019.

In July, council voted to place a 2-mill levy on the Nov. 6 ballot for the purpose of funding the city’s own emergency medical services, to be operated through the city fire department.

Originally, city leaders said the decision to withdraw from the EMD would depend on voters passing the levy. Now, the city will move forward with its own emergency medical services, whether or not the levy passes in November.

The decision comes after months of talks between city leaders and the EMD. At the start, the discussion centered on efficiency and saving taxpayers money, said Joe Russell, council president. Since then, concerns have been raised about run cards–which agencies respond to what types of emergencies and in what order.

Councilman Rex Castle said the EMD has “not shown they are willing to work on changes” to resolve the issues, hence council’s decision to make the split. Making the decision now, rather than waiting until after the election, gives both the city and the EMD more time to make the transition before the split takes effect in January, he said.

Councilman Anthony Smith said he was “absolutely baffled” that the EMD wouldn’t work with the city more to resolve the issues, especially when faced with losing 40 percent of its tax revenues if the city withdrew from the district.

Councilman Comer opposes the split and cited finances as one of the reasons. He asked how the city plans to cover the costs of running its own emergency medical services if the Nov. 6 levy request fails.

“It’s going to put undue stress on city finances,” he said.

When Councilman Josh Peters asked the same question earlier in the meeting, Castle said, “The feeling is we should be able to weather that until the levy does pass.”

Fire Chief Todd Eades said the fire department has unencumbered, unappropriated funds from its fire levy that would help cover costs. He also said that as a result of the split, the county auditor will be appraising the EMD’s assets and apportioning part of those assets to the city.

Amber Bidwell, a London resident and EMD employee, said the city should have let the voters decide on the split by how they vote on the Nov. 6 levy.

Councilwoman Brenda Russell said that while that was council’s original plan, the issue became too complicated to leave to the voters.

“It’s been a very, very complex learning experience,” she said.

Bidwell argued that ample time remains before the election to educate voters.

To Bidwell and the other EMD employees in the meeting audience, council president Joe Russell said, “I understand why you’re all upset…I definitely understand and feel for you.”

He reiterated that issues came to light after the withdrawal was first proposed and those issues have gone unresolved.

“Your anger is directed in the wrong direction,” he said, echoing comments councilman Smith made earlier in the meeting about the EMD’s leadership.

The EMD board has set a special meeting for 7 p.m. Sept. 18 at 40 E. Center St., London.

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