Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Dodge Center Ambulance has eye on potential Taxing District

For decades, the Dodge Center Ambulance, the ambulance provider for Claremont, Dodge Center, Kasson, Mantorville, and Townships in Dodge County have survived off of small financial contributions from Dodge Center and Kasson, voluntary donations from other communities, and the reimbursement from insurance when going on calls.

The model no longer is going to work unless major changes are made to the reimbursement rates, particularly for Medicare and Medicaid, which for an aging community like Dodge County, and other outstate communities is the largest percentage of patients they provide service for each year.

Now city officials across the county may soon be taking votes up or down on whether or not they should create a Dodge Center Ambulance Taxing District.

“We hope we will never have to use it if we do get it formed,” Interim Ambulance Director AJ Gengler previously told the DCI.

Fair Share

One of the biggest frustrations for ambulance providers, especially in outstate communities is collecting money from insurance.

When a department like Dodge Center billed roughly $1.7 million two years ago and only received $650,000 in cash, it causes concern about the long-term plan.

“You can send a $2,000 bill and you maybe will get $400 or $500 if you’re lucky from that bill,” Gengler said about reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid.

With 60 to 70% of rural EMS calls being those patients, Gengler knows there needs to be other ways to generate revenue.

“We need the government to pay the true cost of a bill and ambulance ride,” Gengler said.

One silver lining for Dodge Center Ambulance is a strong volunteer base. During an interview last week Dodge Center City Administrator Lee Mattson noted the ambulance had over 14,000 volunteer hours last year.

Since volunteers are only paid $3 an hour to be on call, and then paid a relatively small amount for an hourly rate when on calls, it provides large savings for the ambulance, allowing it to continue.

“Without the volunteers, we could not operate the service,” Mattson said.

Matters were further complicated when legislators failed to provide $120 million in funding for rural ambulance providers, which officials viewed as a stop gap. Instead $30 million was allocated, with uncertainty of how much if any would go towards the Dodge Center Ambulance.

Other Communities Could Be Impacted

Unlike other communities in Dodge County, West Concord and Hayfield have their own ambulance service.

But volunteerism is at an all-time low in West Concord, for example, meaning the city has had to be creative.

One of the ideas was to bring in two full-time staffers for the ambulance which would provide them with guaranteed day time coverage, after two long time volunteers who previously handled those shifts retired last year.

Beginning Jan. 1, the city had the funds to pay for two full-time EMTS, but no one has applied.

It means Dodge Center through an agreement has temporarily been providing coverage for West Concord Monday through Friday between 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. in exchange the Dodge Center Ambulance is allowed to bill for any of the calls they go on.

But should a Taxing District be formed Mattson said the reality is it may not be fair for taxpayers in the Dodge Center Taxing District to have to pay taxes while residents in other communities don’t have to pay but still get the service provided.

“We’re just concerned that right now we are providing some coverage for other services in the county where we’re doing the response for them,” Mattson said. “There’s some concern on our part that it is perhaps unfair if we’re in the process of creating a taxing district that we would continue to provide that kind of coverage for free in other places. That it might not be fair to our taxpayers.”

Last week the Dodge Center City Council held a work session to discuss what a long term model would look like for funding from a place like West Concord if a Taxing District is formed.

“With the City working on implementation of a taxing district to assist in funding operations, it seems appropriate that the City also start considering a charge for providing coverage to neighboring ambulance services,” Mattson wrote in a memo.”This would be above and beyond what we charge patients and would apply to agreements where we are covering time for a service but not when we are providing mutual aid.”

Mattson said no consensus was reached by the City Council, and discussions will be ongoing.

Regardless of whether or not a Taxing District is formed, Mattson said nothing would change in terms of mutual aid.

Next Steps

Time is of the essence, Mattson said especially if the goal is to have the Taxing District formed in time for the next budget season this fall.

“We obviously [would] like the decisions to be made as soon as they can,” he said.

Currently he said an attorney hired to work on the legality of a proposed Taxing District is in the process of drafting contracts and joint power agreements for the cities and townships.

Mattson said once draft agreements and other information is drafted up by the legal team, the idea is to go over the proposal with all the communities and “see what kind of comments there are and where we’re at.”

In terms of a timeline Mattson said,“ we’d like to keep things moving forward because I think it’s really important to develop some certainty.”

Mattson said large capital purchases need to be made soon, something often put on the backburner, due to a lack of funding. But before large purchases are made he said “we believe we’re gonna continue on with the service, but we would like to have some understanding of what the future holds, before we do that.”

 

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