Tax district may be answer to M-F ambulance service problem

The earliest voters could decide on the district would be November.

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MILTON-FREEWATER - The formation of an new ambulance taxing district is now being considered by Umatilla County officials.

But even if such a district is formed, it wouldn't be in place soon enough to provide funds for the area's current ambulance service, which is expected to end May 1.

In February, operators of the Milton-Freewater Emergency Medical Service said they would discontinue providing ambulance service as of May 1 because the private company is losing just shy of $100,000 a year.

On Tuesday, the Ambulance Service Area Advisory Committee voted unanimously to recommend asking county commissioners to approve a new taxing district, which would most likely follow the boundaries of the Milton-Freewater School District, officials said.

Under current state statutes, Umatilla County must come up with a viable plan to maintain ambulance coverage after May 1.

Emergency Services Director Jim Stearns said the formation of a taxation district will not be part of the plan because the earliest voters could decide on the district would be November.

Even if voters approve a new tax district, the first tax funds wouldn't be available until the fall of 2012, he added.

Stearns said his department is working with the current provider to determine if it can continue providing ambulance service beyond May 1.

"The bottom line is that there is nothing concrete and won't be for some time. And even if the provider says ‘you know what, we can suck it up and stay in business until the vote,' there is still the uncertainty because what if the vote doesn't pass?" Stearns said.

Rick Saager, owner and operator of Milton-Freewater Emergency Medical Services, said he could not maintain service beyond May 1 without some form of subsidy, according to draft minutes from Tuesday's meeting,

In those minutes, Stearns reported that the city of Walla Walla wanted to be a "good neighbor" and has offered to provide services on a temporary basis.

Stearns also reported there is another private ambulance service that is willing to provide service, but that provider wished to remain anonymous at this point.

If a taxing district is formed, it is expected to cost about 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, which means the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $20 a year.

The proposed district would be able to raise about $107,000 each year to supplement ambulance service, Stearns said.

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