(Editor's Note: The next town hall meeting will be Sunday, July 21 at 2 p.m. at 1392 South Third Street in Troy. The third town hall will be July 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the Winfield/Foley Fire House 1. The final town hall will be on Aug. 2, at Elsberry Base 3, 902 New Hope Road in Elsberry, at 6:30 p.m.)
The first public meeting to discuss Proposition Ambulance was held on July 16 at the Lincoln County Ambulance District (LCAD) Auburn Base.
Attendance was small, with the vast majority of the 10 or so people in attendance being LCAD employees or board members. Prop. Ambulance is a 35-cent, per $100 assessed valuation, property tax increase; if passed, the revenue from that tax will go into funding the betterment and growth of the LCAD for the next 30 years.
Since 2000, LCAD call volume has doubled due to an increase in population in Lincoln County of 18.5 percent – making it one of the fastest growing counties in the state.
The issue being presented is that LCAD’s budget hasn’t seen an increase with the growth.
“Right now, we are running our ambulances at their max capacity. We need three more ambulances,” Ray Antonacci, LCAD Chief Administrator, said.
And three more ambulances means not only the vehicles, but crews to man them and stations to house and dispatch them from.
At the meeting, Antonacci presented the five-year Capital Improvement Plan that would be enacted should Prop. Ambulance pass on Aug. 6.
Five years, three phases
The five-year plan is broken into three phases:
Phase I, contingent upon to passing of Prop. Ambulance, consists of constructing a new Moscow Mills base, constructing two new bases in the east and west parts of Troy to move medic units that currently respond from LCAD headquarters in the middle of the city to and hiring and training six full time paramedics to staff the new base in Moscow Mills.
Antonacci said that because two units are operating from headquarters in the middle of Troy, response time to Moscow Mills and Hawk Point aren’t what they should be. The three new bases proposed in Phase I would allow for a triangulation of bases around the central headquarters, making for a much quicker response time to outer parts of those areas.
Antonacci predicts that the placement of these proposed new bases could cut response time down from an average of about 12 minutes to eight minutes or less.
Phase II consists of a renovation and construction on LCAD headquarters to accommodate an improved, state-of-the-art training facility, fleet management areas and administrative offices.
Phase II includes re-instating Troy ambulance (Medic 7) and hire and train six full time paramedics for the Medic 7 base and normally-scheduled upgrades to vital equipment as well as new hardware and software to stay current and modern.
Phase III includes creating a Base 8. Antonacci said that that could be constructed on a property LCAD has at Highway Y and W, but that they would be continually watching population trends to ensure that in five years, that is still the proper location.
“Right now that looks like the best spot to be to respond north, south, east and west,” Antonacci said. “However we have to watch the population trends over the next four years.”
Another large aspect of Prop. Ambulance is the institution of Compassionate Billing.
“Something that I deal with on a daily basis is emails and phone calls from residents saying they can’t afford their ambulance bill,” Antonacci said. “We are a first responder, like police, like fire, and we want your tax base to be able to support the ambulance district alone without having to bill you personally.”
Antonacci said that a part of Compassionate Billing is billing the insurance company but working so that the individual who is taken in the ambulance would never see a bill.
“The reason we want to do that is because when you are having a heart attack or when your child has a burn or whatever it may be, you don’t want to be thinking ‘can I afford this trip?’” Antonacci said. “We want to be able to respond, take care of you and not have to worry about the latter. Why are [we] taking people in duress and billing them when we as a community could be paying just a little bit more in taxes, have far better emergency response and never having to worry about that surprise bill.”
While the one citizen at the first town hall was generally supportive of Prop. Ambulance, there are detractors making their concerns known regarding the ballot item.
Concerns have included how the money will be spent, the amount property tax will increase for some homeowners, questions about LCAD board members receiving insurance policies and worries about the potential cost of covering other people’s ambulance rides.
A concern voiced at the July 16 meeting by Gary Luck was that the members of the LCAD Board of Directors are getting a health insurance plan that is excessive.
“The reason I was at that meeting was because a friend of mine texted me and said ‘do you realize we are paying $25,000 for each board members insurance?’ And I said no, I didn’t know that. I don’t approve of them paying $20,000 for each board members insurance, even if it is a [state] statute,” Luck said.
Antonacci stated that the LCAD Board of Directors is one of the most active boards, attending charity events and having a large say in decisions that are made. He said that they are always available to the LCAD administrative staff.
Another concern voiced by Luck was the fact that LCAD was holding this special election, which can be expensive, instead of including Prop. Ambulance on the last ballot or waiting until the next scheduled election.
“I don’t approve of them paying 60 something thousand to have this election when they could have had it at another election time when the cost was much less,” Luck said. “I think they’ve got a motive to get it passed when there won’t be that many people out there voting,” Luck said.
“People just like me will complain about the taxes but they won’t go listen and find out what’s going on. You know, I complain all the time about taxes, but people need to take more of a part in it,” Luck added.
“Some people are just against taxes no matter what,” Antonacci said. “And that is not something I can convince somebody differently of. But for anyone on the fence who isn’t sure if this tax is needed, I can tell you it is needed. The census shows that we are going to double our population by the year 2030. Right now at 2020, we’re behind the eight ball.”
If Lincoln County was to double in size by 2030 and LCAD’s budget remained stagnant, the results would be catastrophic, according to Antonacci.
LCAD already faces Code Zero six to eight times a month, where there is a call for response, but zero units are available to respond. In this situation, units from neighboring counties have to respond which can drastically affect response time.
In the month of July, LCAD has already faced five Code Zeros, leading Antonacci to believe that July could be a particularly bad month.
“This is a need. We run out of ambulances regularly, but people don’t see that,” Antonacci said. “All people see, and I think we do a great job of this, is that they call 911 and someone shows up.”
Antonacci said that he has hope that the people that saw the need for the 911 dispatch services (approved in the last election) also see the need for the improvements LCAD needs.
“That new 911 dispatch will be able to improve and offer better service to us but that better service isn’t going to matter if we don’t have any ambulances. The improved 911 will be great, but they’ll be calling St. Charles County,” Antonacci said.
The whole Capital Investment Plan along with exact numbers on the proposed tax increase and the dates and times of upcoming public education meetings can be found on the LCAD website at www.lcad.net.