County EMS, townships look to get on same page
Officials in Morgan County have plenty of opinions on ambulance service provided in the county, but there’s one thing everybody can agree on — taxpayers should get what they pay for.
On Sept. 11, 2017, Morgan County Emergency Medical Service (EMS) became official as a county owned-and-operated ambulance service, thereby giving many residents in Morgan County their first advance life support (ALS) service.
The process to create Morgan County EMS started in April 2016, but the county has been working for years to get an ambulance service. Last year, it finally happened.
In 2017, the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) approved an additional property tax levy — equaling 13.9 cents per $100 of assessed evaluation — to pay for Morgan County EMS.
According to Morgan County Auditor Dan Bastin, when the county laid out its plan to establish an ambulance service in Morgan County, the council budgeted for the services to be provided in the areas that did not already have an ALS ambulance service operated by a governmental entity.
Morgan County Commissioner Ryan Goodwin said when the county was deciding where Morgan County EMS would be provided and how it would approach the DLGF about taxation, some areas would be carved out of the plan.
“Essentially, the standard that we put out was if you are receiving ALS-level service and you are paying for it somewhere in your tax rate, then that was an area that was likely going to be carved out,” Goodwin said.
According to Goodwin, the only two townships in Morgan County that met that description were Brown and Madison townships, located at the north end of the county in the Mooresville area.
Residents of Brown and Madison townships already had ALS service funded through their respective governments, which were based within those townships. Therefore, they were not included in the additional property tax levy.
But two others townships have agreements with entities outside their townships. Clay Township contracts with Brown, and Harrison Township contracts with White River Township in Johnson County.
In light of that agreement, Harrison argues that it, too, provides ambulance service, and thus, taxpayers are paying the additional tax levy for services they don’t use.
In a guest column appearing in today’s Reporter-Times, members of the Harrison Township Fire Department state they feel that the 13.9-cent tax levy is a double tax for a “duplication of services,” which are already being provided. They contend that a 6-cent tax rate already in place covers the cost of all fire and EMS activities in Harrison Township.
According to Bastin, when the DLGF was investigating the 13.9-cent tax rate, it looked to see if there would be any double taxation for EMS service, which is the reason only Brown and Madison townships were exempted from the levy.
When it comes to Harrison Township, the 6-cent tax is strictly for fire protection, according to Bastin.
“(The 6-cent tax) covers nothing for ALS service,” Bastin said. “I mean, the ALS service is being provided by outside of the township services coming in.”
According to Harrison Township Fire Chief Dave Allison, the township has provided residents an ambulance service going back more than 20 years. He confirmed that Harrison Township currently has an agreement, which goes back to 2011, for ambulance service with White River Township in Johnson County.
“They are doing it because of a contract that we have in place with them,” Allison said.
Allison said the township has also contracted with Myers Ambulance Service and Rural/Metro Ambulance in the past.
For Bastin, an outside contract is not sufficient to qualify under DLGF standards, since “you, as a governmental entity,” should be providing it as “an operation of your governmental entity” to meet the criteria.
“Where it talks about ‘Harrison Township provides an ALS service,’ (it) is not necessarily true,” said Morgan County EMS Director Donnie Warren. “White River Township provides a service.”
Warren believes it is the taxpayers of Johnson County who are actually getting hurt by the agreement.
Allison said the 6-cent tax rate is for the township to provide fire, rescue and ambulance services through the fire department.
“We provide fire, we provide rescue, and we provide that ambulance through contracts,” Allison said.
As a result of those outside agreements, there are many residents who are paying for ambulance service with their tax dollars but not receiving the benefits, according to Warren.
That is because when Morgan County EMS is dispatched to Clay and Harrison townships they often get disregarded, said Warren.
In a letter dated Dec. 30, 2010, Allison sent a letter to then 911 Dispatch Director Greg Williams that explained, as of 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2011, the proper order to call ambulances “on any and all incidents.” The first two on the list are from White River Township, followed by Madison Township, Rural Metro Greenwood, two from Rural Metro Martinsville, one from Madison Township, and Morgan County.
Now that Rural Metro is no longer operating in the area and the county has its own ambulance service, officials would like to see Morgan County EMS be the first call made.
“It is not us wanting to encroach upon areas that they covered prior to this,” Warren said. “It is simply making sure that the taxpayer has what they are paying for.”
During a Morgan County Commissioners meeting on Jan. 16, Warren asked for the commissioners’ blessing to initiate the process for providing ambulance service to the residents who are paying the taxes for it.
“We have a service that is organized to provide service in all of the areas except for Brown and Madison (townships) and Mooresville,” Bastin said.
In Bastin’s opinion, residents of Morgan County paying for the new Morgan County EMS deserve the service they’re funding.
“So the request to the commissioners was to notify dispatch that in all areas — except for Brown, Madison and Mooresville — that the Morgan County EMS service is the primary ambulance service for those areas,” Bastin said.
Warren said that county commissioners need to instruct the county’s dispatch director to make sure county units are not being disregarded.
“When it comes down from the commissioners, they are the executive body for the county,” Warren said. “That should be it.”
He expects a resolution being added to the ordinance that created Morgan County EMS.
Goodwin said he believes the commissioners will most likely instruct the dispatch center to use Morgan County EMS as the primary provider in Clay and Harrison townships.
By Lance Gideon | Reporter | Published Feb 2, 2018 in The Reporter Times