Chrisman council concerned about ambulance future

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CHRISMAN – The failure to create a special service area to support the Northern Edgar County Ambulance Service (NECAS) has members of the Chrisman City Council concerned.

Ambulance coordinator Jeremy Neal and NECAS attorney Robert Morris, who is also the Chrisman city attorney, were present for the Tuesday, Sept. 3, city meeting.

Neal explained the goal was to create a special service area in time to receive tax payments in 2020 for underwriting the cost of providing an ambulance service. NECAS currently serves Prairie, Brouilletts Creek, Edgar, Shiloh, Young America and Ross townships and the communities of Hume, Metcalf and Chrisman.

“The special service area is being held up by Ross Township,” said Neal.

The other jurisdictions have passed resolutions of support but Mike Taylor, the Ross Township representative to the NECAS board, indicated at the Aug. 27 NECAS meeting, the Ross Township supervisors oppose the special service area as imposing a tax without letting residents vote on it.

Responding to a question, Morris confirmed if Ross Township does not participate that blockades Chrisman residents from receiving ambulance service since the township surrounds the city.

City commissioner Rodney Wolfe is Chrisman’s delegate to the NECAS board and he reported inviting a Ross Township supervisor to attend the city meeting and discuss the issue. Wolfe said the supervisor demurred and suggested Chrisman representatives should attend the Sept. 12 Ross Township meeting instead.

Neal, Morris and Wolfe indicated they plan to attend the Sept. 12 meeting. A question was asked if other city council members should attend and Wolfe said, “I think anybody who is concerned about ambulance service should be there.”

Since a special service area cannot be created in time to collect tax payments in 2020, Morris said a stopgap measure is asking the jurisdictions involved to increase their individual levy requests. NECAS is currently funded by payments from the general funds of the jurisdictions involved. Those payments are based on the percentage of the population found within each community.

Chrisman makes the largest payment into NECAS.

If the percentage payments were adjusted to provide the $250,000 needed to underwrite the ambulance service, Chrisman’s portion of the bill amounts to more than $48,000, but that is not possible. Morris noted Chrisman only has the ability to levy another $24,000 from taxpayers.

Metcalf, he said, is already at its maximum taxing ability. He added there is more flexibility for the townships to submit a higher levy request if those bodies are willing to provide increased support until the special service area is formed.

Commissioner Brian Haddix had reservations about the communities seeking more in taxes.

“What if we raise taxes for a year and they don’t pass a special service area? Do we have to raise taxes again the next year,” asked Haddix.

Wolfe said a one-time bump is the limit since the failure to create a dedicated funding source will result in the financial failure of the ambulance service.

“We will have to stop the ambulance and let the fire departments package patients and wait until an ambulance arrives,” said Wolfe.

In other discussion for the evening, Commissioner Thad Crispin reported the city engineer submitted a letter to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) seeking permission to accept a bid for resurfacing Madison and Monroe avenues from state Route 1 to the city square. The bid came in higher than the engineer’s estimates for the project using motor fuel tax (MFT) funds.

Crispin said IDOT did not accept the higher bid amount but did approve the use of MFT for some of the work in the bid proposal like grinding the streets, removing bumps and patching.

“We’re going to do that,” said Crispin. “We’ll knock down the bumps and patch so we are ready to bid again next year.”

Uncontrolled weed growth on the railroad right of ways in town is a continuing problem.

“We can’t get anywhere with CSX so we don’t have any choice but to take matters in our own hands,” said commissioner Tyler Alexander.

The situation is complicated because Watco Companies, L.L.C., has active use ownership of the track but the ground is owned by CSX. Alexander said a Watco representative has agreed to spray the weeds to a distance of 25 feet on either side of the tracks even though that is not Watco’s responsibility.

Watco, he added, is also willing to let city workers within those 25-foot spans to cut weeds. That still leaves another 25 feet of ground on each side of the track within CSX control.

“I’m concerned about safety,” said Alexander. “The weed height is obscuring the views of the crossings.”