Specifics not known in how referendum could assist ambulance service

Marianne Gillespie TimesNewspapers

No new information was released at the Chillicothe City Council meeting Oct. 22 that could assist voters in making up their minds on whether they should approve the city’s tax referendum on ambulance service.

Ambulance Rescue 33 had its license permanently suspended almost two months ago, mainly due to scheduling issues and response times. A review board upheld the squad’s suspension.

Since that time, Advanced Medical Transport of Central Illinois has been filling in as the ambulance service for the area.

Residents are billed for the service, which was free under Rescue 33, but the city nor any of the surrounding townships are paying to have the service itself.

City officials placed the question on adding a line to its tax levy specifically for ambulance service. Officials said in a worst-case scenario, the city may have to pay to assist in keeping Rescue 33 going if it could re-establish its license or if not, secure another provider.

Due to not knowing how much money would be needed, city officials offered a percentage range, up to 0.25 percent. On that high end, depending on many factors, the city could generate roughly $200,000 to $235,000. A homeowner with a $100,000 home at fair market value would pay about $85 at the top end of the levy.

City Attorney Mike Seghetti reminded the council that Rescue 33 publicly came out that they are working on a new operational plan and decided to not seek any more appeals.

“ … the city’s position is that if Rescue 33 is going to try to get back into business that the city wants to support that effort and wants to support Rescue 33 as best you can,” said Seghetti. “So with that, I think we can say with respect to the referendum on the ambulance tax, that if the referendum passes and Rescue 33 gets back into operation, and they come to the city and ask for some support, that that would be the place that we would see the ambulance tax money going if we choose to levy the tax.”

He added that the city does not want to get into the ambulance business or get into a situation with a competitor.

Rescue 33 officials would have to ask the city for the money they need, Seghetti said, but also said it is possible that the squad could have a plan without asking for tax money. A few days after the council meeting, squad officials announced they did have a plan that does not include the need for tax funds.

The tax itself, city officials said, have caused residents to question if it would be used for other things.

“If it’s not going to be used for ambulance service, it’s not going to be levied,” said Seghetti, who added that if the referendum passes, the council will have to vote to approve the tax.

Alderman Chris Boyer, who serves as the finance committee chairman, reminded the council of what could happen if the referendum does not pass.

“If the referendum does not pass, and they do seek some support from the city, monetarily, funds would have to come out of the general fund,” said Boyer.

The general fund is the city’s main fund with which aldermen approve various city projects, including some bigger road improvements.

 “The referendum is truly, really important to help take away some of the cost that would normally be if there was no way that the city could subsidize it. And, taking it out of the general fund is not a very pleasant idea to do because we’re not budgeted for it, we’re not set up for it, but we also have 6,000 people in town that need ambulance service at some time. The referendum would really, really help this whole situation,” said Mayor Troy Childers Sr.

Resident Judy Gajdik asked if tax money would be used, then would Rescue 33’s books be open to the public.

Seghetti said he thought the city would want to take a look at the squad’s books, but that would not necessarily mean that the books would be open to the public.

Childers said his bottom line was that the tax money would not be a “gift” from the city.

Childers also expressed concern in making sure an ambulance provider would stay in the Chillicothe area.

With Rescue 33’s volume of calls around 1,200, the calls have dropped by 85 percent, he said, when residents knew they would have to pay for AMT’s services.

With that call volume, he said he is concerned if Rescue 33, AMT, or any other ambulance service would provide support if it could not at least break even.

Seghetti said if the referendum is approved, the funds could be used on a temporary basis for an ambulance provider.