Clock ticking on forming service area

Gary Henry ghenry@prairirpress.net
Posted 7/27/20

CHRISMAN — The second step in creating a special service area providing ambulance service in Northern Edgar County was taken Monday, July 20.

A public hearing was held under the auspices of …

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Clock ticking on forming service area

Posted

CHRISMAN — The second step in creating a special service area providing ambulance service in Northern Edgar County was taken Monday, July 20.

A public hearing was held under the auspices of the Edgar County Board to take public comments and answer questions about the proposal. This followed a May 20 vote by the county board creating the special service area, but that vote does not become final until the mandatory protest period closes.

Attorney Robert Morris explained people opposed to creating the taxing district have 60 days from July 20 to get two petitions protesting the action filed in the Edgar County Clerk and Recorder’s Office. One petition must be from landowners in Young America, Ross, Prairie, Brouilletts Creek, Edgar and Shiloh townships, including the communities of Chrisman, Hume and Metcalf. The other petition must be from registered voters in the same areas.

Morris said state law for creating a special service area requires that both petitions must be signed by a

minimum of 51% of landowners and electors to derail the ambulance service. It is not sufficient to have one petition achieve the 51% mark and the other fall short.

Any opponents to creating the special service area and the accompanying tax of 20 cents on the $100 of assessed valuation must get 1,390 property owners and 1,110 of the registered voters to sign

“The clock starts now,” Morris said Monday night regarding the 60-day protest period. He added if opponents are successful, a two-year moratorium follows before another attempt at creating a special service area can occur.   

About 27 people attended the meeting Monday night with more than half that number being county officials and people associated with the current Northern Edgar County Ambulance Service.

There was some grumbling about another tax from a few of the roughly 11 members of the general public that attended. Only one man voiced direct opposition, noting he does not live in Edgar County but owns 200 acres within the proposed service area so the tax will cost him.

Another suggested it is unfair because he will pay more toward the ambulance service than people with property that has lower assessed value. He suggested calculating how much the ambulance needs, dividing that up by the number of people in the service area and taxing by the number of people instead of property value. It was pointed out that is not how property taxes work, and there is no legal mechanism for what the speaker suggested.

Kevin Julian, president of the Northern Edgar County Ambulance Service (NECAS) board, briefly explained why there is an effort to create a taxing area. NECAS started in the 1980s as a volunteer service, but today’s realities are different.

“Times have changed,” said Julian. “People just can’t give the hours they did 25 years ago.”

Julian said the goal is to have an ambulance staffed around the clock and that requires having a paid work force.

County board chairman Jeff Voigt added the state keeps increasing the training required for ambulance workers and that training is expensive, which discourages volunteer service.

Some concern was raised about safeguarding the presence of an ambulance in Chrisman once the bid is awarded to operate an ambulance in Northern Edgar County.

County board member Derrick Lorrenzen said the committee that designs the bid specifications will determine the geographic location of the ambulance base as part of the bidding process.

“They will be located in the area,” said Lorenzen. “It is reasonable to expect it to be in Chrisman.”

One person asked about safeguards to make sure the tax collected from the northern townships does not get put into the county’s general fund or comingled with any taxes collected for special service area #1 in the south half of the county.

Voigt said state law requires separate accounting and a separate audit for each service area to prevent the funds mixing and making sure the money collected goes to the stated purpose.

According to Julian, the special service area is the last chance to keep a local ambulance operating as NECAS cannot economically continue much longer.

“Nobody wanted to do this, but if you want to keep an ambulance in Chrisman we have to do something,” said Julian. “The question you have to ask yourself is do you want an ambulance or not?”

The NECAS board met the following night, July 21, for a regular monthly business meeting.

Ambulance coordinator Jeremy Neal raised the issue if NECAS will submit a bid to continue operating an ambulance. He said Morris believes the current not-for-profit operation can bid for the contract.

This is a somewhat unusual bidding process. Parties wanting the business of providing ambulance service do not bid on how much they are willing to pay the county but rather how much of the anticipated tax is needed to underwrite the service. The proposal taking the least amount of the tax wins the bid.

No discussion followed, but board member Darin Craig made his position known.

“If somebody else wants it, I say let them have it and let’s get out,” said Craig. “If nobody bids, we will have to in order to keep an ambulance.”