MILTON-FREEWATER - The threat of a 30- to 40- minute wait for an ambulance starting next month is over, as Umatilla County commissioners agreed to extend a reimbursement payment to local service provider Rick Saager.
On Tuesday, Commissioners Bill Hansell and Dennis Doherty voted to continue a $1,000 monthly payment to Saager's Milton-Freewater Emergency Medical Services. Commissioner Larry Givens was absent.
The monthly payments began in June to help Saager recoup what he said is a $100,000 annual shortfall for providing ambulance services to the area.
Twice this year Saager has given notice that he was about to terminate his ambulance service to the Milton-Freewater area because of the financial losses.
Had Saager ended his ambulance service, Milton-Freewater residents could have faced a 30- to 40-minute wait for an ambulance from Pendleton because the next-nearest provider in Athena recently lost its only paid paramedic, Umatilla Emergency Services Manager Jim Stearns said in an interview earlier this month.
Tuesday's vote by commissioners will continue the payment to Saager through the end of the year, with an option to extend the contract for an additional month.
Saager and Stearns say the payment is not a solution to the problem, but a way to buy time until voters decide the fate of a new ambulance district tax.
"It buys enough time for the people in the Milton-Freewater area to make their wishes known," Stearns said.
In November, residents of an area following the same boundaries as the Milton-Freewater School District will decide if they will pay a property tax of 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to support ambulance services, which would mostly make up the budget shortfall.
If voters are against it, Saager said he will discontinue service.
"Then we have no option but to go ahead and close it down," Saager said. "We are seeing pretty positive support right now (for the proposed tax). They really don't want to have no ambulance service right here."
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.