Thursday, January 10, 2008

Emergency Service by the Wayside?

Being that I'm a native of Dell Rapids, I've been watching with interest the plan to create a rural ambulance district in Minnehaha County.

Here's the story in a nutshell. Most communities in Minnehaha County are served by volunteer ambulance services. These folks donate their time, and in many cases, their money, in order to provide good medical service not only to their communities but the rural parts of the county.

However there's been a problem. The pool of available volunteers is shrinking. It used to be that the folks that volunteered were able to take time off from there jobs should an emergency arise. For example, if the butcher in Dell Rapids was on-call and a call came through, it wouldn't be but a 5-minute drive to the garage and hop in the ambulance. Nowaday, many folks have to work out of town, which makes daytime service difficult, if not impossible. So that volunteer may now have to drive 15-30 minutes just to get to the ambulance, which is pretty impractical.

The County Commission recognized this and gave the services a one-time grant of around $250-thousand so they could hire full-timers to man the ambulances. Still rely on volunteers, but also ensure reliable service. But the County Commission said that the money was a one-time deal to help get the services on their feet.

As a result, several communities, including Dell Rapids, Hartford and Garretson drew up plans to create a special tax district. Essentially, property would be assesed and the funds would help pay for full-time personnel to ensure that there would be reliable ambulance service. Essentially, property taxes would go up $15 per $100,000 of valued property (which is valued significantly lower than market price).

However, voters in Minnehaha county overwhelmingly defeated the proposal in a special election on Tuesday. Basically, these services are now on their own.

Now I'm not one to vote for every single tax increase that comes along. I hate taxes as much as the next person. But at the same time, I see this as being an essential service that is in now in serious jeopardy.

Look, it's like paying insurance. You pay premiums every month, and then pray to God you never have to use it. But there's always those times where something does come up and that service is (usually) there for you. Same principle applies here. You hope you never have to need the ambulance service, but it's good to know it's there. After all, it's not like you're paying for a pool (sorry, AQUATIC CENTER) that you'll never use!

But now these communities are forced to go back to the drawing board. And I wonder... is our desire to be on the cheap going to hurt us in the end? Already we're a humiliating 51st in teacher salaries, we have to claw tooth and nail to get decent schools built, and we have this NIMBY quality whenever someone comes in to offer some economic opportunities.

I'm a fiscal conservative, don't get me wrong. If a project is not worth the cost, I won't vote for it. I think the Sioux Falls was idiotic to try and pass a bond issue for a downtown events center, then turn around and take out a loan to upgrade flood prevention and drainage facilities. And if you can get some private funding involved in some of these projects, all the better! In fact, I joke that the only way that Madison is going to get a proper high school gym is if some old rich person kicks off and leaves an inheritance!

Frankly, what this district was asking was pretty much on the cheap. The newspaper that Cory Heidelberger thinks is evil says it will cost $360,000 to properly fund this service each year. Imagine what Rural-Metro Ambulance or some other for-profit service would charge to cover such a vast area! Frankly, I think the voters turned down one HELL of a deal!

I'm hoping some of my fellow Dell Rapidians and Minnehaha-ites see the light and come up with SOMETHING before people begin to suffer from lack of services.

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