Mayor proposes that city sever ties with EMD

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(Posted June 14, 2018)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

London Mayor Patrick Closser is proposing that the city cut ties with the Madison County Emergency Medical District (EMD) and provide its own emergency medical services in combination with its fire department.

Currently, a 3-mill levy covers the cost of the EMD’s services to London. Closser says the city can provide the services itself for less. He is proposing that city council place a new 2-mill levy on the Nov. 6 general election ballot to fund city-provided emergency medical services. If the levy would pass, the city would stop collection on the 3-mill levy for the EMD.

Council plans to hold a public hearing on the proposal during its June 21 meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers at 6 E. Second St.

Both Closser and representatives of the EMD have weighed in on the matter at the last two council meetings.

At the most recent meeting on June 7, Closser outlined a plan for how the city would implement a emergency medical services department and addressed questions about coverage. He said the city would:

* have three transport vehicles to start;

* use the same model for billing as the EMD uses;

* acquire additional equipment to supplement existing equipment;

* increase staffing; and

* transport patients to the appropriate facilities, just as the EMD does now.

Closser also addressed questions and comments he has heard since unveiling the proposal at the May 17 meeting, one being that combination fire/EMS departments deliver substandard service.

“If that is the case, why do so many departments operate with this model? Thirty years ago, it was standard to have separate services; now the majority of departments are combined, providing a more effective and efficient service,” he said.

Some have asked why he wants to reduce the millage.

“I believe we need to reduce the tax burden,” Closser said. “The Madison County EMD replaced their recent levy instead of renewing. When doing this, it effectively raised the taxes on the citizens, yet they (the EMD) have a substantial unappropriated, unencumbered balance with no definitive plans in place. As a taxing body, we are not supposed to be banks. That is why when my administration saves money…we do not hoard the money. We put it back into things like our infrastructure and parks and recreation.”

To comments that the reduced millage wouldn’t amount to much of a savings to taxpayers, Closser said the amount could be meaningful to some.

“I know when there have been discussions at city council in the past about the raising of fees for the Board of Public Utilities, many people come out and let us know that a few dollars a month is a lot to them and especially those who are on a fixed income,” he said.

In response to Closser’s proposal, EMD Chief Robert Olwin addressed council and the administration at the June 7 meeting.

To Closser’s contention that the city will provide better and more efficient service, Olwin stated that the EMD’s personnel are some of the best paramedics and EMTs in the state and have won statewide awards for their work. The district’s current leadership has over 110 years of combined service in the EMS field.

“The mayor wants to turn your safety and health care over to a chief that has no experience running an EMS department,” Olwin said. “I know the plan is to have one of his staff be in charge of the program, but the chief should have the same certification level as his highest trained personnel.”

Olwin also pointed out that the EMD’s employees do more than respond to EMS calls. They also provide non-emergency services and programs, such as child car seat safety checks, safety education for police officers and school staff, and Narcan training for response to drug overdoses.

Olwin presented several emergency scenarios and asked how a combined city EMS and fire department would handle them.

“What will happen when there is a fire or major incident in the city of London or Summerford Township and London’s fire department resources are tied up along with the mutual aid companies, and a resident suffers a medical emergency?” he asked.

He also asked what the city department would do if a major incident involving a train occurred on the railroad tracks that bisect the city. He said this possibility worried him from his first day on the job at the EMD.

“I always had a concern that one day we would have a major incident involving a train, and we would be on the wrong side of the tracks,” he said. “The district solved that problem by opening a north station. This gives us medics on either side of the tracks. The (city) fire department could once again be trapped on the wrong side during an emergency.”

Regarding the EMD’s levy history, Olwin said the city administration supported and London voters approved levies in 1994, 1996 and 2004. When the district put a replacement levy on the ballot in 2016, the city’s representative on the EMD board voted in favor of the request and voters passed it.

“At the time of that decision, our board realized that our responsibilities in the district had increased–run volume and community activities–and planned for future growth. But you will note that we have not asked for an increase in millage since 1996.” Olwin said.

He also noted that Closser’s proposal of a 1-mill reduction would only benefit property owners; renters would see no tax savings. He said property owners would see a savings of $35 per $100,000 of property value, or $2.92 per month.

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