County commissioners agree to maintain ambulance service in Milton-Freewater

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MILTON-FREEWATER - Umatilla County Commissioners have agreed to maintain local ambulance services for Milton-Freewater services by offering the current provider financial support over six months.

The settlement was reached Thursday following a discussion between commissioners with the Umatilla County Emergency Management director and the county's dispatch manager. Milton-Freewater City Council member Sam Hopkins-Hubbard was also present, but said he was acting as a community resident.

The commissioners have agreed to pay $1,000 a month over six months to keep Milton-Freewater Emergency Medical Services operating. Thursday's settlement reverses action enacted Tuesday, when commissioners agreed to turn to Walla Walla and Athena ambulance providers for emergency medical calls out of Milton-Freewater. Tuesday's decision was spurred by the announcement earlier this year that Milton-Freewater EMS would end its services May 1 unless it received public financial support.

Jim Stearns, director of Umatilla County Emergency Management, said both sides agreed on Thursday it would be in the best interest of Milton-Freewater residents to maintain a local ambulance provider.

The Milton-Freewater EMS, owned by Rick Saager, has provided paramedic and emergency medical services through the Milton-Freewater Rural Fire Department for years. But it is a private business that has been working in an area without a formal taxation district for ambulance service.

A committee was established this week that will focus on establishing an ambulance district in Milton-Freewater that would provide local tax dollars to support ambulance services. Residents will likely vote on creating the district in November.

Commissioners committing $1,000 a month in public money to the Milton-Freewater EMS is a first, Stearns said. But the move was regarded as an emergency stopgap to keep things in operation, and not meant to set a precedent for other ambulance operations, he said.

"The whole goal here was to maintain service until the people of Milton-Freewater have an opportunity to vote on the special district," Stearns said.

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