While the majority of the voting members of the County Commission many have good intentions, their decision this week to lower the county ambulance fee will not bode well for safety services in Jefferson County.
Three members of the panel, Josh Compton, Caleb Hudson and Peter Onoszko, banded together to support the lowering of the fee from $40 per residential household to $35. The group will take official action on making the move official within the next few weeks.
Sadly, the three did not listen to the voices of several in the audience who spoke in favor of the fee; nor did they listen to the advice of their financial director who explained that lowering the fee now with plans to lower it each year moving forward until the cost of service is enveloped in the general fund budget was not financially sustainable.
The county's current budget can barely fund the expenditures on the lists of those seeking funds and revenue from sources such as gaming and coal severance may not remain steady.
A request by the county sheriff for several addiitonal officers saw pending approval for two positions. Other line items in the budget remained set at last year's levels or were reduced through lower allocation requests. With the current constraints on the budget, it is not clear where the general budget funds will be found to make up the difference of nearly $800,000 that currently comes into the coffers via the ambulance fee.
This year's reduction amounts to approximately $100,000 and Compton was quick to offer an answer to funding that amount via "extra" revenue that would otherwise go into the county savings. Neither he, nor those who voted in favor of the fee cut were interested in looking ahead to what happens next year and the year after when the general budget may not be able to sustain costs or if future commissioners decide to allocate general funds somewhere other than to ambulance service and public safety.
While some see the $40 fee as a "tax" and the idea is to not have additional "taxes," this fee is minimal at best for the service it helps provide. The funds cover staffing of trained ambulance personnel for our county who serve especially during hours when our volunteers are not able to cover.
Thankfully having had ambulance service needed only once, I?have to say that the knowledge and professionalism from those who responded are more than worth $40 a year. The necessity of having their services is not going to go away and cutting the fee by an amount that would cost most folks one meal at McDonald's per year--but can cost personnel, service and perhaps the saving of a life is a poor move on the part of these commissioners.
This fee helps cover what their budget cannot and will not be able to cover in the future. It is a service that we can't afford to potentially lose nor can we rist inadequate training or the loss of personnel to other locales.
Reconsider the cut and provide funding for continued ambulance service to your constituents. It could be a matter of life and death.