NECAS seeks solutions

NECAS to approach fire departments for help in maintaining autonomy, finances

Posted

CHRISMAN – A couple of options exist for providing more financing to the Northern Edgar County Ambulance Service (NECAS), and within those options are a mix of possibilities.

The NECAS board met Tuesday, Jan. 29, and coordinator Jeremy Neal reported attorney Robert Morris indicated finding statutory authority for creating a special service area for the ambulance resulting in a tax to help support the service.

There was no great rush by board members to jump on that option. Instead, the preference is to arrange a meeting between the ambulance board and the fire trustees of the Chrisman, Hume and Metcalf fire protection districts.

“We need to know if they are in or out,” said NECAS board president Kevin Julian.

Ambulance board members hope to convince the fire departments to annually contribute a total of $22,000, split between the three departments, to financially assist the ambulance service.

NECAS was originally organized as an all-volunteer service with an agreement between Young America, Ross, Prairie, Brouilletts Creek, Edgar and Shiloh townships along with the communities of Chrisman, Metcalf and Hume to make annual population based donations. Those local government entities provide a total of $22,000 to operate an ambulance, and each also appoints a person to serve on the ambulance board.

Since NECAS formed, population has declined so a population based funding formula becomes problematic and a reduced number of people are willing to volunteer. The ambulance service is confronted with paying people to be on call in addition to a standard payment for making runs. It is not a lot of money, but when an organization does not have a lot, it becomes burdensome.

Julian said an additional $22,000 by the fire departments would go a long way toward helping the ambulance service stabilize.

Neal pointed to another advantage for fire department involvement.

“The fire departments already have taxing authority,” said Neal. “The ambulance doesn’t unless we set up a special district.”

It was noted one possible difficulty in obtaining assistance from the fire trustees is the area served by the ambulance and the fire protection districts do not neatly overlap.

For example, NECAS serves all of Brouilletts Creek Township. The Chrisman Fire Protection District covers almost all of that township, but the Paris Community Fire Protection District, through the Vermilion Fire Station, has about 2 ½ miles of the southern part of Brouilletts Creek. Similar overlap occurs where the Sidell Fire Department comes into an area of Northern Edgar County and the Brocton Fire Department also covers part of Shiloh Township.

NECAS board member Daren Craig favors the fire department solution. He suggested if the three departments are willing to assume responsibility for the ambulance service he is prepared to disband the NECAS board and let the fire trustees administer the ambulance operation.

“We are going to lose complete control if we turn it over to the county,” said Craig. “It is better for northern Edgar County residents if the fire protection district boards do it.”

Julian agreed to a point, but he also emphasized the need for a backup plan that does not include the fire departments.

“If the fire departments don’t want anything to do with it, the ambulance will have to go on its own to create a special district,” said Julian. “We want to keep the ambulance here in Chrisman because of the distance.”

Another unknown is gauging public support for creating a new taxing body.

Craig, who represents Edgar Township on the NECAS board, said the Edgar Township trustees indicated they prefer doubling the ambulance subsidy rather than confronting another tax.

While NECAS has some cash reserves, the organization is operating in the red on its current budget. It was suggested asking the supporting government units to make a quarterly contribution rather than twice a year might help with cash flow problems, although seeking larger contributions is probably unavoidable.

“It’s an initial shock to double it, but if the ambulance had taken a 2 percent increase every year, as it was supposed to do, we would already be there,” said board member Rodney Wolfe.

Neal was asked to coordinate the effort to find a date when the fire trustees can meet with the NECAS board.