Maybell residents ask commissioners to retract EMS district from ballot, though commissioners don’t have that power
Maybell residents and representatives of the proposed Health Service District met Thursday with the Moffat County commissioners, the first group to give voice to concerns about the district and the second to defend its necessity.
This fall, voters in Moffat County will vote both to approve the district or not, and, at the same time, to elect potential members of the board for a district that would preserve and expand ambulance services in the county. Should the district pass the ballot, five directors will be voted to control it as well — two to serve until the first regular special district election in 2023, and three to serve until 2025. To fund the district, property taxes in the county would be raised, and the average homeowner would see an increase of about $35 per year.
Representatives from Maybell said Thursday that they opposed the election in its entirety and were meeting with the commissioners to discuss the possibility of taking the issue off of this fall’s ballot. However, that action would require a court order and a judge’s approval.
Maybell representatives present said they felt like the process to create and elect board members for the Health Service District has not been transparent. A notice about nominations for the Moffat County Health Service District was published in order to spread the word about nominations, but that notice was accidentally published on Aug. 19 in the Leadville Herald Democrat, not the Craig Press. Representatives from the proposed district who were present Thursday said it was an honest mistake, and also that they had no knowledge that the notice was even published. There was also no legal requirement to publish the notice.
The Leadville Herald Democrat told the Craig Press that Micki Mills, the designated election official for the district, placed the notice. Mills, reached by email, said it was intended for the notice to be published in a Moffat County newspaper and that she has not received any nomination forms yet.
“That was a simple error. Nothing more,” she wrote.
Darryl Steele, who was part of the original agreement to bring an ambulance to Maybell in the 1970s, said that with top taxpayers like coal mines and power plants closing within the next 5-10 years, he has concerns about funding EMS services in Maybell with taxpayer dollars.
“If we’re going to do a countywide taxing district where everybody’s pitching in on this thing, we’ve got to think about all four corners of the empire here, and about how this thing is going to work,” Steele said.
District representatives say they have budgeted for the power plant’s closure, and that they are particularly concerned with serving county residents in Maybell and Dinosaur. After the power plant closes — or at any time — taxes cannot be raised to make up the difference without approval because of the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which requires any tax increase be approved by a vote of the people.
Steele also said he is concerned about the makeup of the board when it is elected; currently, there are no specific districts set for board members, so all of the board’s directors could theoretically be from Craig. This can later be amended by the board, but that will not happen until after the election. T. Wright Dickinson said that he’s worried that whoever ends up on the board will have “special interests” that will affect decisions that pertain to EMS services in the county.
“I want the voters of this community to understand that they need to be very thoughtful about their vote on this,” he said. “They may be paying a greater share of the burden of the taxes for this district than may ever have been paid in the past.”
Maybell residents would pay the same mill levy that Craig residents or any other district residents would should the measure pass. There is no means by which one part of a taxing district can be taxed on a higher percentage of the assessed property value than another.
Sherrie Johnson, who runs EMS services in Maybell, said that volunteers at Maybell EMS do not want to be “run by the hospital.” She said that in her time that she has worked EMS services outside of Craig, the system that is currently in place has worked. EMS service in Craig is currently operated by Memorial Regional Health, but the district would remove the ambulance service from the hospital’s purview and control.
However, the service plan calls for MRH to contract with the district, at least initially, for billing operations and some other administrative services.
“We have a billing service we’re happy with,” Johnson said. “The county takes good care of us. We understand that you have to be forward thinking. Someday, I’m going to run out of those wonderful volunteers that I have in Maybell, and we’re going to have to do something. But right now, and for the maybe foreseeable future — 10, 15 years — I don’t see that happening.”
Currently, EMS services are not considered essential by state or federal governments — unlike fire rescue and law enforcement — so Maybell’s ambulance services did not qualify for federal COVID-19 relief dollars. Their services receive some support from Memorial Regional Hospital, but with EMS services in the county losing $600,000 each year, it is not guaranteed that MRH will continue to be able to fund 24-hour ambulance service in Craig, much less provide Maybell that support.
It can take upwards of 50 minutes to get an ambulance from Craig to other communities in the county. District representatives say the plan is to put an ambulance in Dinosaur, where there is not one currently, and fund and operate the ambulance service in Maybell.
Todd Jourgensen, representative for the city of Craig on the hospital’s board of trustees, said that strategy around EMS services outside of Craig need to be looked at in terms of longevity. While current EMS services may be supported for now, it is unclear how long that can last if the health district does not pass.
“We have to move forward with something,” Jourgensen said. “If we took this off the ballot tomorrow, there’s a darn good chance that the board of trustees in the hospital is going to say ‘No, this year, you better figure out your EMS service.’ Okay? This is not a threat. This is reality. We’ve done what we can.”
Sam Radke, chief financial officer for Memorial Regional Health and a representative for the district, said that stakeholders from Maybell were invited to add input into the district’s formation, but those who received invitations did not attend those Zoom meetings. Radke added that it is not the intent of district organizers to replace or “take over” EMS services outside of Craig. When the board is elected, the hospital will provide services that must be in place on the first day, including human resources, IT, accounting and support services. If the board decides they can better handle those services, MRH will give up those responsibilities.
“The board can be elected on the second (of November),” Radke said. “They can meet on the fourth and say, ‘We have a better plan to do that with the county.’ They give notice to the hospital, and done deal. We’ll cooperate. We’ll move whatever direction you want. We’re not here to take over anything. We want to respect the attitude of working together as a county, coming together as a team and making it work.”
Currently, Dinosaur has no EMS services and relies on other services in the county and across state lines to handle emergency situations. Under the plan, more citizens of Moffat County would be covered by an ambulance to ease the strain on current EMS workers and provide faster care for those in crisis.
“It’s our intent that all three parts of the county would have ambulances fully equipped. They would have volunteers — fully educated,” Radke said. “(Volunteers) would be paid better than what they are. Now, we want to make it stronger than what it is. What I’ve heard through the open meeting is they’re paid $50 per run. We budgeted for them to get paid $200. We want it to be worth their while. Right now, they go through an EMS class, (and) they get no payment for that. Our plan is we’ll pay them $1,000 to go through the course.”
Self-Nomination and Acceptance forms are available from Mills, the designated election official for the district, at email@example.com or by phone at 303-947-7314. The completed Self-Nomination and Acceptance forms must be filed no later than 5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 30.
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Next week, Colorado Northwestern Community College and Moffat County are hosting a free day-long seminar for local ranchers and agriculture producers.