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Frustration and fear dominated Monday’s Oldham County EMS board meeting as employees and board members discussed the organization’s future.
Board members voted to move forward with creating a request for proposal to outsource management duties at Oldham County EMS.
Employees learned about the RFP in a meeting two weeks ago, although Interim Director Jim Carman told employees they weren’t supposed to hear about it until Monday’s meeting.
The lack of answers prompted employees to distribute 12,000 flyers to Oldham residents — a move Judge-Executive David Voegele said is going too far.
Voegele said the flyer contained inaccurate statements and unnecessarily scared people.
Jennifer Jones, an EMT and member of the OCEMS employee committee, said the flyer was a way for the organization to spread the word about what little they knew and hopefully garner the public’s attention.
And the meeting did receive attention — attendees filled the fiscal court room and Voegele said the meeting would air later on public access channel 25.
During his presentation, Stan Clark, county CFO and an OCEMS board member, said the proposal is a way to look at new ideas that might help the organization, not an attempt to privatize it.
Clark said flat revenues and increasing costs are forcing OCEMS to operate at a deficit.
Personnel costs make up a large part of the budget, he said, and hazardous duty retirement expenses continue to rise.
In July, the employer match for the state’s hazardous duty retirement system will be 37.6 percent of salary.
Voegele said he wants OCEMS to remain the same except for hazardous duty retirement.
Ben Willen, a paramedic and manger at OCEMS, said he depends on hazardous duty pay to keep his family safe in case of an emergency. Willen became emotional recalling a recent EMS run that could have left him seriously ill and said the retirement system balances the risk employees are in when they’re out saving lives.
Clark said OCEMS will remain a public agency — although existing employees would become employees of a private company if a management contract is approved.
He pointed to outsourcing kitchen services at the jail, done at one time but not any longer, and outsourcing cleaning services as similar situations.
Several residents expressed concern that their tax dollars would be given to a private company without their consent.
Brad Keller, a Goshen resident, said it doesn’t make sense to ask a for-profit company to come up with ways to save the county money.
“It’s like asking the fox to design the henhouse,” he said.
Several people said they would be willing to raise taxes to support OCEMS. The Oldham County Ambulance Taxing District has not increased the tax rate since 2008.
The current rate is .0474 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The state caps EMS departments at .10 cents per $100.
“Why can I vote for alcohol in La Grange but I can’t vote to raise taxes for EMS?” asked La Grange resident Michelle Grider Netherton.
Clark said raising taxes should be considered the county’s last option and that the board is responsible for cutting costs in other ways first.
“If our only option is to raise taxes then we, as a board, can move forward in good faith,” he said.
But, the problem is that a referendum could be voted down — leaving OCEMS without a solution.
Employees said they have tried to make cost-saving suggestions before but their suggestions fell on deaf ears.
A revised schedule developed by the employee committee and submitted at the meeting would save $120,000 annually, Jones said.
Meeting attendees received a synopsis of the RFP at the meeting the current draft was posted on the EMS website Tuesday.
Clark encourages employees and residents to review the document and submit questions, comments and suggestions by April 2.
Bob Lawson, a firefighter with the La Grange Fire and Rescue, cautioned the board against outsourcing OCEMS.
“If you get rid of Oldham County EMS it’ll be the dumbest decision you ever made,” he said. “This is the best damn EMS we’ve ever had around here.”