Thursday, March 22, 2018

Ambulance district decision going to the voters

Persistence and hard work on the part of the Columbus Rural Fire Board have put the decision of creating an ambulance district in the hands of Stillwater County voters.
A mail ballot election will take place on May 2, 2017, in which registered voters who live in what is now being called Stillwater Ambulance District No. 1 will get to vote for or against funding a mill levy that would fund four full-time positions at Columbus Fire Rescue.
Those four positions are comprised of two paramedics and two advanced EMTS who provide Advanced Life Support (ALS) care. The positions are currently funded through two different grants but fire officials are not willing to risk losing the grants and subsequently the positions when ALS service is so widely used and needed throughout the county. And it’s not just Columbus Fire Rescue and the Columbus Rural Fire Board that think that way. Stillwater Billings Clinic Dr. David Kane has publicly expressed the dire need to maintain ALS service.
The mill levy would not exceed 13.3 mills, which means a total of approximately $300,083 assessed on all properties within the boundary of Stillwater Ambulance District 1. For a property owner with an assessed market value of $100,000 would pay approximately $17.96 per year. A property owner with an assessed market value of $200,000 would pay approximately $35.92 per year, according to the resolution drafted by Cowger and adopted by the commissioners Tuesday morning.
Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger, who has spear-headed the effort, said Tuesday a public education campaign will take place in order to let voters know exactly why the district is being sought and to explain how it would work.
According to the resolution, a 5-member citizen board would be responsible for matters including budgeting, hiring, wages, setting fees and more. That board would initially be appointed by the commissioners then turn into elected positions.
A March 2017 election date was original planned but that got bumped when County Clerk & Recorder Heidi Stadel received notification from the Secretary of State this week that a special election will be held early in 2017 to replace Sen. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., should he be confirmed as the Secretary of the Interior. The Secretary of State’s Office requested that no other special elections be held.
The Columbus Rural Fire Board is paying for the election.
At Tuesday morning’s agenda meeting, Commissioner Maureen Davey said the commissioners had gone “above and beyond” regarding the ambulance district matter by bumping it to the top of their busy work schedule.
Cowger and the Board have been trying to get the ambulance district on a mail ballot for more than four months. At the end of August the commissioners turned down the request to hold a special election in December, citing tight deadlines between the federal election in November and the end of the year. On Sept. 6, commissioners declined the Board’s request to select an election date for a mail ballot election in early 2017, saying it was not their responsibility to set special elections.
Undeterred, Cowger and the Board doubled-down and drafted a resolution and submitted it. That prompted a joint meeting between the Board and commissioners last week during which details were hammered out.