Health service district opponents working to build new long-term plan to sustain EMS
The opponents said from the beginning that it wasn’t just naysaying.
Nov. 2, the primary drivers between the campaign against the proposed Health Services District, a measure that would have created a special taxing district funding and managing county-wide ambulance service but failed on the ballot, were triumphant. But the group, which called itself Citizens Opposed to 6A and 6B (referring to the titles of the measure on the ballot), insisted throughout the opposition campaign that it was looking for a better solution — not simply trying to kill the one they considered untenable.
Monday, that group says it’s fulfilling that promise.
The Moffat County commissioners will meet in a workshop Monday at 3:30 p.m. with Karen Burley, Darryl Steele, T. Wright Dickinson and Dan Bingham to explore possible avenues to create county-wide, county-funded and county-operated EMS services.
“We said all along that if we were able to defeat the health service district that, now that we know there are big issues with EMS, we would not just cut and run,” Burley said by phone Wednesday. “We want to look at how we sustain EMS in Moffat County.”
The impetus for the HSD in the first place was Memorial Regional Health’s declaration that long-term financial support of the EMS system the hospital operates is unsustainable in its current form. A taskforce was formed to determine another solution, and that led to the proposition of the special taxing district, which would have raised property taxes and created an elected board to operate county-wide ambulance service.
The proposal included taking over Craig-based EMS from the hospital, support and management of Maybell Ambulance, and the installation of an ambulance in Dinosaur, which currently relies on service out of Vernal, Utah, for emergency services. When it failed at the beginning of the month, the concern was that the hospital might decide to cut services to part-time or worse, and Dinosaur remained unserved by an ambulance or EMTs.
Burley said Wednesday that, even though her group had helped defeat a proposal that would have remedied those dangers, they weren’t about to ignore the real problems exposed in the process.
“We’ve done some research through the state of Colorado, other counties, to see how a county-funded and managed EMS system could work,” Burley said. “For a county this large geographically, but with this small a population, we don’t need to get too extravagant. But we want to meet the commissioners to talk about this subject and we want the meeting to open to the public so that anybody can hear our vision.”
Citizens Opposed had alleged a lack of transparency among their accusations of impropriety levied upon the ballot measure’s campaign. Wednesday, Burley said the group intended to prove that was a sincere concern.
“All our meetings will be open,” Burley said. “No closed meetings. We don’t believe in that. That was one of our biggest complaints about the health service district, and it’s not a myopic focus. We’re trying to build Moffat County community.”
Burley said the detailed plans or proposals were scant at this point — by design. She said the intention was to include the community in every step of the process.
But, she said, they envisioned that there was a model where the county itself, led by the commissioners, were in charge of all aspects of an all-county EMS program.
“Commissioners can appoint an advisory board, much like they do for the hospital, and it’s decisions by the commissioners being made for the county,” Burley said. “That’s their job. They have authority to run EMS. If they needed to do something in regard to taxes, not that we’re necessarily looking for that, but they can do it with a special mill levy that goes to the voters, because of (the Taxpayer Bill of Rights). We want it done through the county — it makes it simpler.”
Burley didn’t have numbers yet as far as cost or plans for means of funding, but said that her group wanted those conversations to begin in public.
“We’re right at the beginning,” she said. “We want input, we’ve not narrowed anything down. Let’s get all five regions of the county involved — Hamilton, Brown’s Park. What happens to Little Snake? All of that is important. The goal is to inform the public there’s another idea out there.”
The campaign was hard-fought and nasty at times, but Burley said that moving forward, the cause of both sides is essentially the same thing. Between Burley, Dickinson, Steele and Bingham, decades upon decades of experience in EMS and its administration are coming together to champion a new, as-yet-undetailed plan to sustain emergency services in the county.
“We are going to get started on what we said we would do,” Burley said. “This is fulfilling our commitment that we made when we talked about not wanting a health service district. We thought it would be irresponsible for us to campaign against something and then just walk away. EMS is important to all of us.”
The Craig Press confirmed that Craig EMS representatives and former members of the proposed board of the defeated district have been invited to the meeting, which will be held in the Board of County Commission chambers and on Zoom.
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