Liberty, Orange, Genoa and Concord township leaders will join forces to demand more EMS reimbursements from Delaware County commissioners.
The county has been collecting a 0.5 percent sales tax since 1972 to run a countywide ambulance service. But cash-strapped townships that run EMS out of their fire departments are asking commissioners to consider funding their operations instead by sharing a chunk of the $18 million in tax revenue that's expected to roll in this year.
At the Liberty Township board's meeting Monday, Aug. 19, Trustee Curt Sybert said he and trustees from neighboring townships have been in contact with Commissioner Dennis Stapleton since January. Although the amount of the payments to townships has been an issue for years, Sybert said, it's at the forefront now because of recent fire-levy failures.
"We had no other choice," Sybert said, than to bring the issue to the public's attention during the meeting.
"(Stapleton) can't get the support from the other commissioners to get this on the agenda and they need to see that the system is broken and it is badly in need of an update," he added.
As a member of the County Fire Chiefs Association, Township Fire Chief Tim Jensen said he and his peers have been appealing to the commissioners for about five years as well, to no avail.
"The $7 million from this sales tax that goes into the county's general fund represents 10 percent of their budget," Sybert said. "Of course they're not going to be interested in sharing that with anybody."
According to information provided to Liberty Township by the Delaware County auditor, the county spent $9.1 million on its EMS operations in 2012. The total sales-tax revenues were $17.5 million that year and the rest, roughly $8.4 million, went into the county's general fund.
The county's EMS expenditures include payments to townships and cities that offer their own services to residents.
In 2012, the county paid the township $231,509. Township Fiscal Officer Mark Gerber said the township would like to see that number increase to about $1.2 million per year, because that's the county's fixed cost to operate two EMS trucks. Liberty and Orange each have two trucks while Concord and Genoa each have one.
Increasing the reimbursements "is the ethical thing to do, and the moral thing to do, for that matter," Gerber said.
Attorney Craig Paynter, who serves as Liberty Township's general counsel, said that although voters in 1971 passed the sales tax under the impression that the revenue would pay for EMS departments, state laws do not require or allow commissioners to earmark the funds, which is why they go into the general fund. In other words, commissioners are not legally required to grant those payments to EMS-providing townships.
But that doesn't mean leaders and residents have no power when it comes to getting their fair cut of the sales-tax profits.
"The three commissioners work for you and these guys need to understand that there are a lot of voters in these areas," Paynter said, citing that more than 47 percent of the county's population is situated in Liberty, Concord, Orange and Genoa townships and the city of Powell. "I think this calls for a political solution rather than anything else."
Sybert said Stapleton has said that he could get fellow commissioners Ken O'Brien and Gary Merrell to discuss the EMS payments, but it would first require township leaders to provide the county with a plan that would cut the county's current EMS costs.
The additional funding may now be even more pertinent, as developers of a Target store and an urgent-care center planned to be built in Liberty Township have filed annexation requests with the city of Powell, said Township Administrator Dave Anderson.
The businesses would be placed into one of the city's tax-increment financing districts, which redirect property-tax revenue that would normally be paid to the township fire department and various county services.
"The EMS reimbursement is our No. 1 revenue source that needs to be corrected," Sybert said. "TIFs are a close second."
In Orange Township, Trustee Robert Quigley said at the board's Aug. 19 meeting that the township could receive about $560,000 a year in sales-tax money from the county.
Quigley said county commissioners are being short-sighted about such a cooperative venture and that the communities think this would be a cost-effective operation.
He said he hopes the commissioners will come back to the table and continue discussions.
"This is doing what is right for the whole county," Quigley said.
Trustee Lisa Knapp had proposed last year that the township's fire department begin its own EMS billing to bring in an estimated $400,000 a year.
She again suggested the plan at the Aug. 19 meeting, but Quigley said he is concerned the county would see such a plan as a reason not to come back to continue discussing a countywide EMS service.
Knapp has said the township is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars by delaying EMS billing.