Warren County Commissioner Jeff Eggleston has proposed a $1.4 million investment in the county’s emergency medical services.
If that investment goes well, the proposal includes a plan for a property tax increase dedicated specifically to funding EMS operations.
“Nonprofit fire departments with volunteers can’t afford to provide the service,” Eggleston said during Monday’s work session. He said EmergyCare, along with the City of Warren, as the only two paid ambulance services operating in the county, is struggling to hire people.
“If they can’t find people to pay,” Eggleston asked, “how are we going to find people to volunteer?”
The proposal that Eggleston made Monday would allocate $705,000 each of the next two years from the county’s American Rescue Plan allocation; $110,000 would be awarded to the City of Warren with the remaining $595,000 allocated to projects aimed at advancing EMS throughout the county.
“The county government making a financial and strategic investment in emergency medical services for the first time would fundamentally change the discussion in the region,” Eggleston suggests in the report, “and perhaps the state by signaling the significance of the issue and that local governments are willing to work together and put ‘skin in the game.’”
“If the program is found to be functional and creates positive results, the Commissioners will also pledge to then raise county property taxes by 1.5 mils in a special allocation on property owners’ tax bills, noticeably separate from the general property taxes citizens pay for annual government costs,” Eggleston wrote.
“The $705,000 figure is not arbitrary because one mil of property taxes produces roughly $470,000 in revenue for the county and 1.5 mils would yield $705,000 generally.”
“The EMS system is on the verge of collapse,” Eggleston said during the work session, proposing the funding as “some kind of assistance in the solution to the problem.”
“I’m not sure what the county’s role should be in this,” Commissioner Tricia Durbin said. “It really should be those municipalities and townships that need the service.
“I don’t know if putting money out there is going to solve the problem necessarily.”
“From my perspective, the county could lead on multiple fronts,” Eggleston said. “If someone doesn’t do something, someone is going to need service and is not going to get it.
He suggested that the county investing in the system might draw municipal investment.
“Whether it’s county or municipal tax dollars, it’s coming from the same place,” Eggleston said. “It’s to address an issue everybody has. I empathize with a lot of these municipalities that do not have a lot of resources.”
“There is some recognition,” Durbin added, that “most definitely…I don’t know if our current system is as efficient as it could be.”
“EMS is an essential service that needs community support and needs municipal funding,” Clarendon Borough Councilman Paul Pascuzzi said.
Noting that 70% of the county is served by volunteers, Pascuzzi said that engaging with all of the municipalities “to have dialogue as it relates to providing support, leadership and funding. It’s been like herding cats.
“This is the first time that a municipality other than the City of Warren has put together a proposal that has at least a foundation of funding,” he said of Eggleston’s proposal, suggesting that municipal government nor the Council of Governments could put together “something like this.
He called solving this at the local level “mission impossible.
“The only way to address this is collectively… to come together and find a collective solution.”
Eggleston stressed there is “no way to point a finger at anybody on this. It’s everybody’s problem. This is just a piece of that larger solution.”
“If we wait for the state, we’re in serious trouble,” Pascuzzi stressed.