The Northern Edgar County Ambulance Service (NECAS) special meeting Tuesday, Oct. 15, finally got something moving.
Board members voted to place an advisory question on the March 17 ballot asking residents of Young America, Ross, Prairie, Brouilletts Creek, Edgar and Shiloh townships if they support the idea of creating a special service area and collecting a tax to support having an ambulance based in Chrisman and serving northern Edgar County.
After many false starts during 2019 to find a solution for the ambulance service’s financial problems, this is welcome action. Residents must understand a positive vote on the question does not establish the special service area. This is an advisory question to gauge public sentiment and to also placate the Ross Township Board members who insisted on such action.
Only the Edgar County Board can create a special service area through passing an ordinance. This action does not require a referendum since there is a protest period following the passage of the ordinance giving any opponents time to gather petitions in an effort to stop the service area and tax.
While March seems a long time away, the NECAS board must remain vigilant on this issue and be ready to submit the proposed special service area ordinance immediately after the primary so the county board can vote on the issue at the April 8 meeting. That vote sets the clock running for a public hearing on the issue after 60 days, and following the hearing there is another 60-day waiting period for opponents to file a petition stopping the action.
Any significant delay in getting the ordinance passed at the county board may push the project too late for getting tax money in 2021. It is for that reason we disagree with some of the alternative ideas proposed at the recent Ross Township Board meeting that will require a referendum on the November ballot. Waiting that long pushes the receipt of tax support out to 2022, which is far too long for replacing the financially struggling Northern Edgar County Ambulance Service with something that has more stability.
We also understand some concern by northern Edgar County residents that local control over the ambulance ends if a special service area is created. The county board becomes the administering agent and will bid the contract for the service so NECAS will likely dissolve at that time.
The Edgar County Board is still local government and its members understand the importance of having a Chrisman-based ambulance service. Carefully writing the ordinance and the bid specifications will guarantee that whatever company gets the bid must keep an ambulance in the northern part of the county.
After years of watching the declining interest in serving on local government bodies, and elections going on without a candidate for every seat, we do no believe the best course is creating a new elected body for the sole purpose of dealing with an ambulance tax. The county board is experienced in handling this for the special service area in southern Edgar County and is more than capable of doing the same for our northern residents.