On June 5th, the Committee of the Whole will consider making a recommendation to the Columbus City Council about a proposal from Platte County regarding help covering the cost of rural Emergency Medical Services (EMS).
The County Board of Supervisors at its May 23rd meeting proposed $300,000 annually over two conditional years be paid to help cover the expenses of providing EMS services to Columbus Rural and Duncan rural protection districts, a responsibility that has for unknown reasons fallen solely on the City of Columbus for decades. Under this proposal, the two rural districts would be the ones paying for the service.
The County’s proposal is in stark contrast to the City previously publicly stating it will cost $600,000 to cover the salaries and ancillary costs of hiring the necessary six firefighters/paramedics to staff an additional ambulance.
Herein lies the issue: EMS is not an essential service, according to the State Legislature, so no single entity is technically responsible for any party to provide the services.
Despite this, City of Columbus leaders are concerned services could fall by the wayside for rural areas or negatively affect Columbus residents in the future if a solution isn’t figured out soon because the City cannot continue to bear the cost and staff shifts properly to cover all areas without potentially jeopardizing lapse of service for some. Factored into that growing fear is that since 2018, the Columbus Fire Department has had an overall 14.58% increase in calls. Of that, there has been an 80.09% increase in fire calls (equating to 20.62% per year).
That rise in calls across the board coupled with limited staff is a problem City leaders want to avoid moving forward.
“We believe it’s in the best interest of the taxpayers of this city to be fiscally responsible with their money, and as it stands now, we’re providing a service without receiving any revenue,” Gray said on May 23rd, following the Platte County Board of Supervisors’ meeting. “So, we’re basically providing that service on the backs of our taxpayers.”
Gray, City Administrator Tara Vasicek and Platte County Board of Supervisor Kim Kwapnioski had an initial discussion about EMS services in August 2022. Then, in December 2022, Gray, Vasicek, Columbus Mayor Jim Bulkley and Assistant Fire Chief Nate Jones, along with City Councilmembers Troy Hiemer and Charlie Bahr, began having periodic meetings with representatives of the Platte County Board of Supervisors, Duncan Rural and Columbus Rural to work toward a solution.
On May 23rd, Mayor Bulkley addressed the Platte County Board of Supervisors during its regular meeting in the Platte County Courthouse with Gray, Vasicek, Jones and City Councilman Bahr all in attendance of the meeting. The purpose was to highlight discussions that have been taking place among the committee members involved in finding a solution for rural EMS services in Platte County. After the meeting, the mayor reiterated that he and other City leaders are concerned the combination of increased call volume and the distance to rural areas could potentially be problematic.
“EMS is supported by the taxpayers of Columbus, so we owe it to them to make sure we don’t have a lapse in service,” Bulkley said.
City officials are appreciative of the ongoing dialogue among all parties involved, though the mayor said the County’s current proposal doesn’t solve the problem because it still leaves approximately $300,000 on Columbus taxpayers’ shoulders.
“The $300,000 annually doesn’t staff the additional staffed ambulance, which we have said would be an estimated $600,000 per year,” Bulkley said. “And we don’t need to staff an additional ambulance if we’re not leaving the jurisdiction of Columbus.”
Gray said the committee’s discussions about solutions have been civil, adding he’s optimistic that will continue because everyone involved wants all citizens and first responders to be safe.
“We’ve maintained civility throughout the entire process, and I hope as we continue throughout the process, that remains the same,” the fire chief said. “And that we all work together to make the best decisions for all of our citizens.”
All members of the City Council are members of the Committee of the Whole. This committee meets for discussion and preliminary consideration of matters prior to making a recommendation to the Council for approval or denial.
The City Council meeting will follow the 5:30 p.m. Committee of the Whole meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, June 5th, in the City Council Chambers, 1369 25th Ave.