Alice Campbell Havre Daily News email@example.com
Hill County may be paying less than its fair share for ambulance services according to the Havre City Finance Committee Chair Terry Schend. During the City Council meeting Tuesday evening, Schend said 20 percent of total calls to the Havre-based ambulance service, run through the Havre City Fire Department, come from county residents, but that the county only pays 2.8 percent of operating costs. City statistics show that the service responded to 570 calls in the city of Havre in 2008 and 144 calls within the county jurisdiction for a total of 714 calls. Part of Hill County is served by an ambulance service based in Rudyard. County Commissioner Mike Wendland said the Rudyard service mainly responds to calls west of the town while the Havre ambulance responds to calls east, north and south of as well as inside the City limits. Havre City Fire Chief Dave Sheppard said that when the Rudyard ambulance is busy, the City ambulance covers what would be designated as their calls as well. Regardless of whether the Havre ambulance responds to a call within the city or in the county, the same base fees of either $300 for basic life support or $400 for advanced life support plus $10 per patient-occupied mile apply. These fees plus subsidies from the county as well as the city make up the ambulance's operating budget. The city ambulance operated on a budget of $693,831 in the 2007-2008 fiscal year. $109,675 was billed for the calls answered in the city and $35,014 was billed for the county calls. Not all of the money for which charges were billed was actually collected, though. "We're like any other business. Sometimes there are bills that you can't collect," Sheppard said. He also said that several different insurance policies, such as Medicaid, prohibit them from colLecting the full amount charged. A letter sent from Mayor Bob Rice's office to county commissioners Thursday morning cited successful bill collection within Hill County at 70 percent. Sheppard said that successful collection in the city was also approximately 70 percent. The letter states that the operational budget for 2006-2007 was $690,210. With the non-governmental revenues of $219,541 subtracted, taxpayers were left to subsidize the remaining $470,669. A written agreement between the county and the city provides that the county will pay 2/3 of one mill levy each year, Wendland said. In the letter, Schend wrote that the county is currently paying the levy in the amount of $18,659. He also wrote that, to pay for the full 20 percent of the remaining budget with overtime and uncollected costs factored in, the county should pay $84,623. Additional numbers, including vehicle depreciation and fuel costs, have not been factored into the calculations yet. When the 2007-2008 budget numbers are compiled, Schend said the committee will "look at those numbers again." Schend has already factored in some additional costs since the time the letter was drafted. The statistics in the letter show that the $18,659 the county paid constitutes 3.96 percent while Schend said at the Tuesday meeting the percentage paid was only 2.8 percent. "I had to factor in some additional information that brought it (the percent paid by Hill County) down," he said Wednesday morning, which is the lower percentage he listed Tuesday. In the letter, the county is asked to decide before the next budget cycle if they will pay the additional funds in order to retain city ambulance services, seek services from an outside source, or come to another solution that makes running the city-based ambulance viable for both parties. "It's our hope that the county will come to the table and discuss this issue with us," Schend said Wednesday. As of press time today, the commissioners had not received the letter and declined to comment until they have time to review it.