Creighton residents will soon be digging a little further into their pockets to pay for ambulance service within their community.
The Garden City Fire Protection District has provided ambulance service to the community of 349 people since 1992 under a verbal agreement, but last year, Fire Chief Mark Lopez said that they could no longer afford providing unfunded emergency response without financial help from the Creighton Fire Protection District.
“We have a shortfall because a large majority of the calls that we come down here on we only get about 6 percent back from what we billed,” said Lopez, in May 2013, stating that many of the patients they transport from the area are on Medicare or Medicaid.
The base rate for ambulance service is $550 per call, and this year, Lopez said they only received 5.8 percent of what they’ve billed to residents in the Creighton district.
Lopez said that Garden City has been in contact with Creighton for about five years in search of finding alternative resources to fund the cost of the service. In the last year or so, he has began nudging Creighton leaders to look to its residents to levy a tax to fund the service after discussing multiple revenue possibilities.
Lopez again approached the Creighton Fire District and a handful of residents at a May board meeting to tell them that the ambulance service in their community would soon be in limbo if they couldn’t pay for the service. He said unless Creighton could find a way to financially support the service, Garden City would no longer be able to respond to calls – leaving not only hundreds of residents, but also students attending Sherwood schools, without local emergency transportation to a hospital.
About 67 percent of the students who attend Sherwood live in Garden City’s Fire Protection District, and Lopez feels obligated to provide service to the school. “We want to continue to be able to provide service for those kids,” Lopez said.
Currently, it takes about 10 minutes for a Garden City ambulance to reach a call in Creighton. If residents would need to wait for a different ambulance provider, it could take at least 20 to 30 minutes for help to arrive.
“If your child is at school, and they’re dying, and they need someone, 10 minutes makes a difference from 20 minutes,” said Creighton resident Mandy Stevenson at the meeting last spring.
Garden City officials even drafted a resolution for Creighton to get the issue on the April General Municipal Election ballot in both Cass and Henry Counties, since the district lies within both areas.
On April 8, voters in the Creighton Fire Protection District approved a tax levy proposition not to exceed 30 cents on every $100 of assessed value to pay for an emergency ambulance response contract.
The measure passed with 83 percent approval among district residents within Cass County. The same percentage of voters supported the tax in Henry County. Creighton residents already pay about 26 cents on every $100 of their assessed property value for fire protection.
The increase is expected to generate about $25,000 annually for the district, costing the average homeowner about $17 a year. Revenues are expected to start coming by December.
Creighton Fire Protection District board member Paul Salmon supports the idea of making a service agreement with their neighboring community.
“We’re in such a rural place. We’re 30 minutes from Clinton and 30 minutes from Harrisonville,” Salmon said. “Hopefully it will help us out.”
Although the tax has passed, Creighton isn’t obligated to keep Garden City as their service provider.
“We can hire anybody but I’d say it would be Garden City because they’re the closest ambulance service,” Salmon said.
Lopez also said his district wouldn’t have gone to the effort that they did had they felt like they wouldn’t get the job.
“We wouldn’t have put this much effort into it had we had gotten a sense that they weren’t going to,” he said. “Our belief is that they’ll continue to have us provide ambulance service but now we’ll have some funding to cover our shortfall.”
Lopez hopes there will be an agreement in place by Wednesday, Oct. 1.
“We hope to meet with them as soon as possible to kind of figure out how this is going to look,” he said.
Lopez said he also wants to help Creighton obtain some emergency equipment to make its first response obligation more effective.
If the agreement is approved, Lopez said Garden City would become the first community in Cass County to offer a non-funded mutual aid contract with another community.
He said the agreement would be a good deal for residents who are in need of an ambulance at some point.
“It’s pretty rare in the state as a whole,” Lopez said. “For the people in the Creighton district, they will not pay anything out-of-pocket other than what they’ll pay in tax. That is big.”