Commission approves language for ambulance service mill levy increase for November ballot
Last updated 8/10/2020 at 11:58am
The Hill County Commission unanimously passed a resolution Thursday to put a 8 mill levy increase to people living outside the city limits for the Havre Ambulance Service on the upcoming general election ballot to make up for the service’s financial shortfall.
City of Havre Finance and City Clerk Doug Kaercher has said the city has been subsidizing the ambulance service for years because the county, which accounts for 28 percent of ambulance calls, was paying far below that percentage for the service.
City of Havre Mayor Tim Solomon had sent numerous letters to the commission over the years asking that this situation be rectified, and in this year’s letter, sent back in February, he said, if the county didn’t respond the city would have to discontinue responding to calls outside the city limits.
Until two weeks ago, the Hill County Commission and representatives from the City of Havre had been moving toward creating a county-wide ambulance district, which would involve the creation of an ambulance board which would make decisions about fund allocation between the Havre Ambulance Service and the Rudyard Ambulance Service, as well as a county-wide levy of between 15 and 17 mills.
Kaercher has said this district would have taken responsibility for the ambulance service out of the hands of the city, eliminating the subsidy the city has been contributed to the service and lowering city taxpayer’s financial responsibility for that service and spreading it throughout the county.
But in a meeting two weeks ago, the Hill County Commission scrapped that plan in favor of implementing an 8 mill levy to the county excluding the City of Havre.
Kaercher said this proposal would make up for the shortfall and would allow the city to stop subsidizing the service, but he and many others including Solomon, Hill County Clerk and Recorder Sue Armstrong and Hill County Treasurer Sandy Brown have expressed concerns about the new proposal being to temporary a solution.
Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson said he and his fellow commissioners felt that this option was more palatable for the people in the county.
The language, which Peterson said, would require some minor tweaks for clarity before going on the ballot, would raise the county levy by 8 mills, 6 of which would go to the Havre Ambulance Service, and the other 2 going to the Rudyard Rural Ambulance Service.
He said people inside the city limits will not be voting on this mill increase, which he said, is part of the reason he thinks it will be more palatable to people in the county.
Peterson said he and others were bothered by the idea that city voters might override the wishes of others in the county if they voted on the county-wide district.
“I think the people in the rural areas need to decide whether they want this service to continue,” he said.
Peterson said if this vote fails, they will likely come back with a county-wide district vote on the next ballot, which will likely be passed due to people in the city being able to vote, but for now all his focus is on getting this new proposal passed.
He said public meetings about this new levy increase will be starting around Sept. 15 every one or two weeks, and he hopes people will show up so they can get a good idea of what this vote will mean.
“We really, really, really need people to come out,” he said.
He also said if people in the county set up a meeting on their own he will attend and try to explain what’s going on, and if he cannot attend for whatever reason one of his fellow commissioners will.