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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Tower Ambulance Commission not yet ready to approve per-capita subsidy increase

Jodi Summit
Posted 4/7/21

TOWER- Members of the Tower Ambulance Commission are still reluctant to agree to an increase of the per capita subsidy amount, currently set at $15, for the ambulance replacement fund.At the …

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Tower Ambulance Commission not yet ready to approve per-capita subsidy increase

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TOWER- Members of the Tower Ambulance Commission are still reluctant to agree to an increase of the per capita subsidy amount, currently set at $15, for the ambulance replacement fund.
At the quarterly meeting on April 5, Ambulance Supervisor Dena Suihkonen told the group that the city’s attempt to get CDBG funding to help pay for a second ambulance was unsuccessful, because while Tower and Breitung qualify for CDBG funding, the surrounding townships of Eagles Nest, Greenwood, and Vermilion Lake do not.
“We didn’t qualify,” said Suihkonen. “It would have been nice.”
The service recently purchased a new ambulance but needs to replace one more rig to have two reliable units to respond to emergencies.
Right now, the ambulance replacement fund sits at just under $60,000, Suihkonen told the commission, but the service’s two older rigs, both with over 100,000 miles, are experiencing problems, and haven’t been used for calls unless absolutely necessary. The 2013 GMC Duramax 4500 has been on the road less than 400 miles so far this year, documents show, and the 2005 Ford E450 has not been out at all, due to intermittent electrical issues. The estimated cost for a new rig is $220,000.
Year-to-date, the ambulance service has recorded revenue of $121,526 (24 percent of annual budget), and expenses of $128,328 (27 percent of annual budget).
The service put on 2,375 transfer miles so far this year and will contribute $1.66 for each of those miles to the ambulance replacement fund ($3,942). The per-capita subsidy payments to the fund add about $40,000 per year, in addition to a contribution from Bois Forte, which currently is $5,000 a year.
Suihkonen told the commission that it’s difficult to estimate the lifespan of an ambulance because the wear-and-tear of running rigs on “crappy roads” means a rig may need to be replaced sooner than the estimated ten-year lifespan.
Suihkonen told the board that almost all the transfers done so far this year have involved picking up local residents at area hospitals to transport them home, and only one has been further away than Duluth.
“Last year a lot of miles were put on by the former director,” she said, “miles to faraway places. We are doing about the same number of [transfer] runs but covering a lot fewer miles.”
Commission member Larry McCray, of Eagles Nest Township, asked for an estimate on transfer miles for this year. Suihkonen said it was difficult to know but agreed that 10,000 miles would be a reasonable guess.
“911 calls are our business,” she said, noting they only take transfers if there is adequate staffing left at home to cover any 911 calls. Suihkonen said they have only done one longer-distance transfer for a COVID-19 patient who needed to be transported to Brainerd to receive a higher level of care.
McCray noted the service had run about 3,300 miles for 911 calls in the first quarter. He said if the service is running 20,000 miles a year in five years it would put 100,000 miles on a rig.
“$40,000 a year [in ambulance subsidy payments] times five years is $200,000 for the ambulance subsidy,” he said.
“With that amount, I can’t justify asking my people to increase our [subsidy] amount,” McCray said. “We are already contributing the amount needed to replace that ambulance.”
McCray said the commission should look at increasing the payments the city makes for transfer miles from $1.66 per mile to $2 per mile.
Suihkonen reminded the commission that the ambulance service needs to be able to meet the needs of our area residents, whether than means responding to 20 calls a year or 500 calls a year.
“We have to depend on each other,” she said. She noted that area communities are setting their per capita subsidy rates higher than Tower’s.
“Virginia’s is twice as much and you’re upset because I’m asking for an extra five dollars,” she said, pointedly to McCray. “It is very little when you are talking about safety.”
Others on the commission seemed more amenable to a possible increase.
“Are we sitting here expecting the city of Tower to subsidize the ambulance for us?” asked Breitung representative Chuck Tekautz.
Vermilion Lake representative Phil Anderson noted the service did need more than one ambulance in service.
McCray stuck to his point that Tower was not paying their fair share.
The discussion then moved on to the issue of the two older ambulances, with McCray asking for a firm quote on what it would cost to bring either of them into reliable service.
“If it takes five thousand to fix one of them, and then it can last another three years, that’s an investment that should be made,” McCray said. “Doing nothing is the wrong thing.”
The commission passed a motion to ask the Tower City Council to get estimates for repairs on both rigs.
The commission also noted they had not been provided quarterly financials. The city had been providing monthly bank statements but stopped providing them at the end of last year because the commission said they did not need such detailed information. A summary financial report was not available for the meeting but was emailed to commission members the day after.
“We just want to see the money in, and the money out,” said Tekautz.
Suihkonen also told the commission the city had paused work on the business plan that was currently underway and was now working on a rural ambulance assessment.
“This study will look at everything,” Suihkonen said. It was noted that problems had been found with the data in the previous business plan.
The commission will hold a special meeting in the near future to finalize wording on the ambulance vehicle subsidy aid agreement because there were questions on the wording supplied by the Greenwood Township attorney that the township had requested be added to the agreement.

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