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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Board seeks more funds for Ely ambulance

Keith Vandervort
Posted 8/13/20

REGIONAL – A non-profit joint powers board that manages the operations of the Ely Area Ambulance Service recently agreed to seek additional funding for the remainder of this year and next …

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Board seeks more funds for Ely ambulance

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REGIONAL – A non-profit joint powers board that manages the operations of the Ely Area Ambulance Service recently agreed to seek additional funding for the remainder of this year and next year.
Officials from the cities of Ely and Winton, and Morse and Fall Lake townships, met last month with St. Louis County Commissioner Paul McDonald and Brandon Larson from the county auditor’s office, to discuss ways to stabilize and increase the ambulance service’s finances.
The current funding formula, based on population, charges the governmental bodies $5.15 per capita for their annual contribution to fund the ambulance service’s operations. As an alternative, the board has been discussing an assessment fee for each parcel of land in the service area.
Before the funding formula can be changed, the immediate shortfall needs to be addressed.
“We had a pretty robust discussion,” Ely Mayor Chuck Novak said last week in recapping the meeting for city council members. “In order to have a sufficient staff, the ambulance service increased its wages, and right when the increase (took effect) we were hit with COVID-19, and hospitals basically shut down, along with (ambulance-provided) transfers. We increased expenses and lost the revenue.”
Ely Ambulance Service Director Geoff Galaski predicted a shortfall of $170,000 in 2020.
Novak said the loss could start evaporating if the number of transports increase. He predicted that for the rest of the summer ambulance transfers should increase and expenses should remain stable.
The state demographer’s population count is due later in August, so the per capita contribution ($5.15 per person) from each governmental unit is not yet determined for this year.
The ambulance service proposed nearly doubling the per capita contribution to $10.10 per capita for the remainder of 2020 and increasing that to $20.20 per capita for 2021.
Winton Mayor Kathy Brandau suggested each entity go back and ask their boards for an additional contribution of $5.05 per person for the remainder of 2020 to help make up the shortfall. That motion was approved.
Galaski presented the joint powers board with information on financial contributions at a rate of $20.20 per person. Under that scenario, Ely would pay $68,882, Morse would pay $24,240, Winton would pay $3,313, Fall Lake would pay $10,443, and the Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital would contribute $21,376, for a total of $128,254 in 2021.
Fall Lake supervisor Mary Tome, supported by Novak, made a motion to increase the ambulance service contributions to $20.20 per person for 2021. The motion passed unanimously and each representative will now seek approval from their councils and boards.
Per-parcel option
The joint powers board discussed how many parcels there are in each entity and how much a $10 per-parcel fee would generate.
Larson said the Ely Ambulance Joint Powers Board, by state statute, is not allowed to impose a tax levy, and recommended the board consult legal counsel on creating a Special Taxing District (an individual per-parcel fee per parcel is defined as a special assessment) as ambulance services are not specifically addressed in the statute, according to the meeting minutes.
There are 2,584 taxable parcels in Morse Township, according to Larson. Ely has 2,196 parcels, while Winton has 147. Fall Lake Township has 2,161 parcels while Stony River has 1,648, although the service doesn’t cover all of Stony River. Larson said Stony River is currently not paying anything into the ambulance service.
According to the meeting minutes, Morse Township officials stated that if a per-parcel contribution was implemented, they would drop out of the Joint Powers Board and decide on their own how to contribute to the ambulance service.
Novak predicted that if the joint powers board was to vote on a per-parcel contribution, the measure would fail.
“We don’t know where this is going to go at this point. The city of Ely is dedicated to fund (the ambulance service),” he said. “This is a necessary service in Ely.”
More than 65 percent of ambulance service calls are made to the city of Ely.
He asked council members to consider their position on funding for the ambulance service.
The joint powers board set the next meeting for noon on Wednesday, Aug. 26 at Winton Community Center.

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