A Gorham Township trustee said last week the township will consider joining a proposal by Clinton and Dover townships to pull from their current Fulton County EMS contracts after they expire next year and create an EMS district of their own.
Trevor Hibbard said Gorham Township trustees passed a resolution Oct. 5 to start pursuance of the possible district after the Fulton County Commissioners, who contract with all of the county’s EMS districts for funding, refused to discuss allotting additional operating funds with Clinton and Dover townships until after the Nov. 3 election.
Hibbard said if those townships can’t come to an agreement with the commissioners Gorham Township could possibly join them in pulling away once their EMS contracts with the county expire Dec. 31, 2021. He said the townships have argued that operational costs have increased and they shouldn’t be forced to cover the additional funding using money from their general funds.
“They’re saying we’re spending this (amount), we should get funded what we’re spending. The argument is, what’s it costing for us to operate?” Hibbard said. “Gorham Township only gets $260,000 (annually), and that won’t even provide one person for 24/7 coverage.”
He said revenue from the county’s current EMS levy – which generates nearly $4 million annually – “is an insurance policy, where we all pay and we all get benefits.”
Clinton Township Trustee Ivan Hite asked Wauseon City Council Oct. 5 for its blessing to walk away from the township’s EMS contract – which currently allots the district $650,000 annually – if negotiations for more operational money fail. Hite said his remarks about a split also represent Dover Township. Hibbard attended the meeting but did not address the council.
Hibbard said additional costs have risen, in part, due to an increase in call volume and a trend away from traditional volunteer personnel.
“The volunteer fire departments, that’s a thing of the past,” he said. “So now, if we want it we have to pay for it. Working together as a county is an insurance policy. We all pay in, we all contribute, we all share resources. The problem is, it’s not being shared very well.”
The county commissioners are currently carrying a $2 million carryover which could be used to grant the county’s EMS districts more operating funds, he said. Hibbard said he understands the commissioners’ desire to use the carryover as a “rainy day” fund, “(but) we just want to have a little more so we’d have a little better coverage. Our EMTs are all part-time. We can’t put somebody at the station all the time to cover that.”
And Gorham Township is unique in that, unlike other districts, it also services rehabilitation facilities and a state park, “so there’s things that contribute to your higher call volume,” Hibbard said.
It has been suggested the county commissioners are withholding talks until after voters fill the commissioner’s seat held by outgoing board member Bill Rufenacht. Hibbard said scuttlebutt has circulated that one of two candidates for the seat might favor a more equitable distribution of EMS funding than the other. But Hibbard emphasized that he can’t be sure of the accuracy of that claim.
What is factual is the commissioners’ recent proposal to place all of the county’s EMS districts under a joint contract that would place them under the county’s purview. The commissioners argue the transition would result in a smoother, less complicated operation of the entire system.
Fulton County Commissioner Jon Rupp said the commissioners delayed sitting down with the EMS executive committee because the current contracts don’t expire until the end of next year.
“With the contract expiration in 2021, we have time to consider all aspects and not rush any decisions,” he said. “We do want to keep this on the front burner due to the possibility a proposal may be put on a future ballot. We feel it is very important that the next commissioner has input on future decisions regarding this matter because the contract will be maintained and expire during a new commissioner’s tenure.”
Rupp said while county EMS levies and managing their revenue have for years been the commissioners’ responsibility, “Things change over time, and this current discussion will reflect changes to remain current with today’s modern atmosphere.”
He said the board of commissioners realizes the three townships want to operate as their own district. But Rupp added that unless the remaining EMS entities form a district, and operate their own levy for that district, residents of Clinton, Dover, and Gorham townships would still be taxed from the county levy.
“Rather for good or for bad,we have a group that wants to do things differently than what we have done,” Rupp said. “We will continue to work on a new agreement keeping quality in service and accountability for the public tax expense a priority.”
Hibbard said if even one EMS district pulls out after the commissioners’ contracts expire next year the county’s present EMS system couldn’t continue and would have to start anew. He said the commissioners would be forced to rerun an EMS levy and form at least one new district.
“It would change for everybody, no matter what. That’s why we’re being proactive now,” he said. “We’re looking into (forming a district) now just so we’re not behind the eight ball if something happens. We haven’t said we’re going to start a district, but we’re going to start pursuing a district, yes. We’re going to investigate.”
The start-up would require a levy on the February 2021 ballot. Hibbard said the interested townships have yet to meet to develop a strategy.
He said any upheaval to the county’s current EMS system could be avoided if the commissioners would relax their purse strings.
“They could ‘up’ everybody just a little bit, and that’s what we’ve been trying to come up with…helping everybody just a little bit. And that’s where we’re struggling,” Hibbard said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.