Citizen won’t let EMS rest

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

Skip Becker came to Tuesday’s Allen County Commission meeting and demanded answers to questions about ambulance service that “are bubbling all through the city.”
Becker said a letter published last week in the Register, from Michael McDonald, asked questions that “need to be answered. There is a lack of understanding and why is it you can’t get along with the city?”
Allen County operated ambulance service for all of the county for about 40 years in an arrangement that had volunteers operating county-owned ambulances in Humboldt and Moran and firefighters doing the chore in Iola. Then, with nods of approval from Humboldt and Moran, the county took full control of their services three years ago. Iola firefighters continued with county-owned ambulances until Dec. 1, 2008, when the city started its own service.
In November 2008, Gary McIntosh and Rob Francis were elected to the commission promising to negotiate with Iola and return to a consolidated service.
For several months, Francis met with Mayor Bill Maness and directors from the two services and reached no agreement. Francis said a week ago the county made four proposals which were all turned down and the city finally ended talks. The city maintains, according to information given the Register, counter offers were made. None of the discussions were made available to the public.
“I think we ought to discuss what was negotiated, even though it was done in closed meetings,” McIntosh said. “I think we ought to get everything out in the open.”
Francis and commission chair Dick Works did not second McIntosh’s declaration.

THEY did answer questions Becker had, mostly coming from McDonald’s letter, and had these things to say:
— The Heartland Rural Electric Cooperative building, 410 N. State, is not in the flood plain, regardless of what Jeff Bauer, city code enforcement officer, says. “We had the property surveyed and the building and immediate area are not in the flood zone,” Works said. “Did it flood in 2007? No.” Bauer maintains that a portion of the building is in the flood zone. City maps also indicate it is within both the 100-year and 500-year flood plain demarcations. The map is prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
— Iola and Allen County have worked together in many ways and although they did cooperate in a single ambulance service, it “always was a source of contention,” Works said. He said over the years the county was compelled to give larger subsidies to keep Iola interested in operating county ambulances. “For years they said they didn’t want to be an ambulance service, that they wanted to be firemen.” Today, the county sends $80,000 a year Iola’s way to help finance its service. That is about the same as what Iolans pay in property taxes to support EMS services to the county.
— The county is leaning toward constructing a separate building to house ambulances and crews at 410 N. State St., with 911 dispatch services and an emergency operations center in the building. They will discuss that more next week. Meanwhile, Works pointed out there was no pending action to trigger issuance of up to $400,000 in general obligation bonds for work there.
“That’s just one funding mechanism that we’ve talked about, just an option and we have no expectations to issue bonds right now” he said. The county has funds in hand and is exploring grant opportunities, he said.
Jason Nelson, ambulance director, said he looked at a two-bay ambulance station in Erie that cost $120,000 to build. A similar structure, with an additional bay, could fill Allen County’s needs, he said.
— Traffic control on State Street is not an issue, Works said. “We have ambulances in (Larry) Macha’s building (at the east edge of Iola) that drive onto U.S. 54, which is busier than North State, with no controls,” Francis said.
— No transformers, filled with toxic chemical-laced oil, were stored in the building the county purchased. That concluded concerns about cleanup or exposure for workers there.
— No plans are in place for the land the county purchased along U.S. 54 in Gas, readied for an ambulance station before the commission and its focus changed. He said the $75,000 paid was not outlandish considering it was a commercial tract along busy U.S. 54. He also said Realtor Kent Thompson, a commissioner when the Gas land was purchased, excused himself from voting since he had the land listed through his agency. Thompson said at the time he did not take a commission from the sale.
Thompson was the agent of record for the sale of 410 N. State St., but was no longer a commissioner.
“Kent spent many hours looking at sites when he was a commissioner, trying to do what was best for all in the county,” Works said.
— County commissioners decided to take full control of the county ambulance service after they recognized ongoing problems, Works said. “We just tried to improve it with full-time staffs in Humboldt, Moran and Iola.”