BOCC hears public comment on ambulance district

by Josh McDonald
Staff Reporter | June 19, 2020 4:40 PM

WALLACE — The Shoshone Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) hosted a public forum on Wednesday afternoon to hear comments and concerns from the public surrounding a recent petition to create a Shoshone County Ambulance District.

Among those in attendance were representatives from the various first responder groups from throughout Shoshone County, many of whom came to voice their support of the proposed district.

While the creation of an ambulance district is complex, BOCC chairman Mike Fitzgerald broke down the petition to really explain the meat and potatoes of what is being desired.

“If you look at what’s happening, you can consider it as a shift in administration from the BOCC to an ambulance district, which would be run by a board,” Fitzgerald said. “There will be a lot of things that will remain the same, level of service, personnel and personnel types, licensures and recruitment. What we’re hearing is that people are very satisfied with our ambulance service in our community and they’d like to see it continue. There is no expectation of expanding services.”

There are some changes, but they are natural changes that appear to be par for the course in any sort of administrative shift.

Things like changes to programs and contracts are administered, fiscal accountability would shift from the BOCC and Shoshone County EMS Corp. and fall to the new ambulance district board, and then the board would also handle their operations and district oversight.

The public hearing portion that followed Fitzgerald’s explanation allowed the folks in attendance to share their thoughts and concerns.

Former Shoshone County Commissioner Larry Yergler gave a solid history of the EMS Corp., how it came to be, why it was important at the time, but his acknowledgment of the potential for the ambulance district to cost roughly $40,000 more than the nearly $90,000 that was levied for it this year was one of the most telling aspects of the hearing.

“If you want a good ambulance service, you have to be willing to spend the money to have it,” Yergler said.

While many of the attendees supported the creation of a district, there were a few in attendance who had some questions that made them a little more skeptical.

Renee McQuade of Calder, is the director of St. Joe EMS, is concerned about the entirety of the county being part of the district, while the area she serves is vastly more reliant on Benewah County than they are Shoshone County.

“If the entire Shoshone County is an ambulance district, then the entire Shoshone County will be taxed as an ambulance district,” McQuade said. “There’s not a lot of communication between the Silver Valley side of Shoshone County and the south side of Shoshone County. How is that going to affect my agency? Are the people in the south half of the county going to have an opportunity to speak to this district because nobody has come to talk to them about this.”

Much of the south half of Shoshone County operates under mutual aid agreements with Benewah County, that allow them to utilize Benewah County resources when it comes to EMS service, very much like Shoshone County Fire District No. 2 does with Kootenai County that allows them to serve the areas west of Cataldo.

John Specht, a board member with the Shoshone County EMS Corp., wanted to stress that the issue that has resulted in the elimination of the EMS Corp. is tied directly to money, and not due to the way the organization was run, nor any sort of perceived incompetence on the part of the EMS Corp.

“The issue at hand is strictly financial,” Specht said. “It’s an issue that the current EMS Board identified 18 months ago and they made some in-house decisions, refused pay raises, and cut expenses. We’ve looked at options over the last years as to how we could make this work out.”

Specht also discussed how people who don’t have enough insurance coverage, or even no insurance at all, still get the same quality care as those that do, but then that has left the EMS Corp. holding the bag in regard to the costs that accompany the high level responses that come from the local first responder groups.

Silver Valley resident Matt Beehner, asked the BOCC to be patient and look at every possible avenue before just jumping right into creating a new taxing district, gain some experience in the operation of an ambulance service, and then make their determination.

Part of Mr. Beehner’s concerns stem from the knowledge that other county facilities will be seeking funds that will have to be derived from the taxpayers and doesn’t want to see his fellow residents hit with multiple new taxes.

“We have a jail that’s still coming at us, sooner or later,” Beehner said. “Sooner or later the SRS funds are going to dry up. We need the ambulance, but understand we have this stuff coming at us.”

The creation of an ambulance district is a unique one that doesn’t require any sort of vote from the residents, but can be created by the BOCC following a public hearing like the one they had on Wednesday.

However, the BOCC decided not to make an immediate decision, but instead decided to take all of the comments that they had received from the group under advisement and will make their determination on Tuesday, June 23, at 10 a.m.