Superior task force says Fire Department ambulance service not viableA Superior Fire Department-run ambulance service is not a viable option for taxpayers. That was the conclusion drawn by five of seven members of the Ambulance Task Force after a three-month review of the fire department’s proposal and service already available.
By: Shelley Nelson, Duluth News Tribune
A Superior Fire Department-run ambulance service is not a viable option for taxpayers.
That was the conclusion drawn by five of seven members of the Ambulance Task Force after a three-month review of the fire department’s proposal and service already available.
Most members agreed the potential costs to taxpayers made the proposal undesirable.
“From the start of our task force meetings, I was confident that our city’s Fire Department was capable of providing ambulance service,” Superior Finance Director Jean Vito said. “The question I had, though, was the cost, and was there a legitimate reason to change from the current service provided by Gold Cross?”
The panel presents its findings to the Superior City Council’s committee of the whole on Tuesday. Already, some city councilors are considering sending the issue to a nonbinding referendum in November.
Vito noted several deficiencies in the Fire Department’s proposal, including underestimates of expenses and overestimates in revenues the service would create. Vito concluded the Fire Department’s proposal would result in deficits averaging $542,750 annually, with a cumulative deficit exceeding $2.7 million in five years. With restrictions on levy increases, and the potential to cut other services to make up the shortfall, Vito said she recommended the city continue with Gold Cross.
The projected shortfall is slightly less than Douglas County’s experience during the last five years it operated a countywide ambulance service, from 1991-96, which prompted the board to eliminate the service and contract with Gold Cross. County taxpayers paid, on average, $556,147 annually to fund the county ambulance service during its last five years of operation.
Steve Panger, a member of the task force representing the Superior Fire Department, said public records from the Wisconsin Office of Emergency Medical Services support Fire Chief Jim Rigstad’s projections. Gold Cross reported 2,869 billable runs in 2008, 59 more runs than projected in the final fire department proposal.
The number of runs the Fire Department would make annually were among the numbers used by Vito in calculating the potential deficit taxpayers would have to subsidize.
“This task force has really dealt with the financial side of the picture,” Panger said. He said the Fire Department’s faster response times and the continuity of care the firefighter paramedics would provide would have distinct advantages for the patient.
County supervisors on the panel questioned those response times if the Fire Department were to respond to rural communities, and were not persuaded the Fire Department would meet the needs of rural Douglas County.
Warren Bender, councilor and chairman of the task force, said he thinks the issue should go to the voters.