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Official language to be drafted for county-wide ambulance district


Last updated 7/9/2020 at 11:50am

The Hill County Commission, along with representative of the City of Havre and the Havre Ambulance Service and Rudyard Ambulance Service, met to continue discussions about the creation of county-wide ambulance district Wednesday and decided to start drafting language for the proposal.

Hill County Commissioner Diane McLean said it was time start drafting the plans for the county-wide district since the commission had officially voted to move forward on it and Hill County Commissioner Mike Wendland agreed.

“In my opinion, it’s important that we begin the process of putting together the language,” she said.

Hill County Clerk and Recorder Sue Armstrong said she and Hill County Treasurer Sandy Brown would begin drafting language based on the $675,000 dollar estimated budget for the proposed district that Finance Director and City Clerk Doug Kaercher calculated.

Kaercher said he’d spoken with Montana State University Extension Local Government Center Director Dan Clark, who advised that they make it clear in the drafted language that the proposed mills are floating mills which can account for the change in mill value in the event of economic changes.

Kaercher said the language should make clear that unused mills can be assessed to pay for capital costs down the road if, for instance a new ambulance was needed, similar to a capital improvement program.

Lowell Strissel of the Rudyard Ambulance Service said he hadn’t been able to come up with dollar figures for estimated capital costs in the coming two, five and 10 years as discussed at the last meeting yet, but that he would share what he had.

Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson said it was especially important that the costs not be underestimated the first time around or the group would have to come back to make changes later.

“We’ve got to make sure that we don’t start too low, because if we do, we’ll never catch up,” he said.

He also said attendees should have their eyes open for people to serve on the Ambulance District Board that would need to be created if the district were to pass.

Strissel came to the meeting with a list of questions he’d received from the people he talked to in his service area.

One of these questions regarded the out-of-city rate that is charged to non-city residents when using the ambulance service.

Kaercher said that rate was instituted in order to make up for the county’s refusal to sufficiently fund their share of the service and as such would be eliminated as a result of the county-wide district.

Kaercher said this rate didn’t solve much anyway because so many of the call from the area were covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

Peterson said the fact that so many charges have been written off as a result of these program posed a problem for the ambulance service.

“Medicare and Medicaid has a huge impact and people want to know that, they want to know what that impact is,” Peterson said.

“It’s not anything that the departments are doing wrong, it’s the mechanism of payment,” he added.

Kaeracher said the service still collects on many of the charges, but over a longer period of time due to the financial situations people on those programs are often in. He said this does have an impact on the service it’s not as dramatic as it may look on paper.

“We’re getting most of those bills paid,” he said.

Strissel also said he got requests for details regarding how many calls go to which parts of the county, and Peterson said some of this is information that they should have ready for the public meetings coming up July 14 at 7 p.m. at Spenser’s Hi-Way Bar in Hingham and July 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Great Northern Fairgrounds Community Center in Havre.

Kaercher said much of that information isn’t really relevant to the matter at hand because the goal of the county-wide district is to create a funding mechanism to keep the ambulance service at its current level of functionality, not to fundamentally change how the it operates.

He also said there is a level of detail that he was not willing to provide for reasons of privacy.

“I’m willing to answer any financial questions, but I’m not willing to go out there and give you all of the calls and what they were, because that is nobody’s business,” he said.

Havre Mayor Tim Solomon and Wendland said if Strissel did want more information he could set up a meeting with the billing department and they might be able to help him answer some of his questions.

Strissel also asked if there was a possibility of the service being to include paramedic service, but Kaercher and Havre Fire Chief Mel Paulson said there is little chance of that just because there’s not enough money for it.


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