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Mixed messages on the St. Charles County ambulance tax initiative

Tomorrow, voters in St. Charles County will decide on whether, or not, to approve a tax increase of 11 cents per $100 assessed valuation. A similar measure was defeated last April by a margin of 52% to 48%. Questions surface, on the eve of the elections, as to the necessity and validity of the proposed measure.

St. Charles County Ambulance District Tax Increase
St. Charles County Ambulance District Tax IncreaseLisa Payne-Naeger

The Ambulance District claims response times will increase as much as 4 minutes per call if the initiative does not pass. In this video, produced by the Ambulance district, flat tax revenue and decreases in Medicaid and insurance reimbursements are causing financial distress. The district wishes to reinstate at least 3 ambulances that have been cut from service, reinstate a closed station and hire 13 additional paramedics, in addition to planning for future growth.

Others are questioning the need for the increase and are finding contradictions in the Ambulance District’s own budget.

The Ambulance district pays more than 89% of its budget into salaries and benefits. St. Charles County paramedics make more than $108,000, annually, with benefits, and the board has not attempted to enter in to negotiations change any previously negotiated agreements.

“The District has entered into labor agreements for the period covering February 16, 2013 through January 3, 2014. The labor agreements cover the District’s full-time non-supervisory paramedics and the two full-time maintenance technicians. As of December 2, 2013, there have been no meetings with labor to discuss any changes to existing agreements. Until such time as a new agreement is reached, the current agreement shall remain in effect. The 2014 budget reflects no changes to the existing wage scale and benefit programs in place.“

While they acknowledge a bounce in the district’s economy, due to growth, they are conservatively projecting incoming revenue. Their report reflects $70 million dollars in assessed valuation, due to growth in the county, but because this is not an assessment year they are banking on 2012 revenue figures, which reflect a 3% decline in valuation.”

Page 13 of their report states:

“While the District experienced a 3% decline in assessed valuation from 2012 to 2013, the local economy is showing signs of improvement in unemployment levels and beginnings of renewed development. The District anticipates approximately $70 million in assessed valuation due to new construction in the County next year Since 2014 is not a re-assessment year, assessed valuation of existing real property is expected to remain unchanged. However, the County Assessor’s office anticipates a 6% decline in personal property values for 2014; thus causing a change in the District’s operating tax rate from $ 0.1365 to $0.1379 per $100 assessed valuation in order to maintain the same level of tax revenues on existing property from 2013 to 2014.”

With a total operating budget of more than $21 million dollars, the General and Administrative costs are expected to inflate, as well, nearly 24%. More than $30,000 of $185,000 increase is budgeted to cover costs of elections in filling an empty board seat and putting forth the tax initiative. The remainder is slated to cover the costs of rising insurance rates, replacing more than 35 computers for offices and ambulances.

Any information regarding the tax initiative, sent to residents via the Ambulance District newsletter “Pulse Point,” is not considered campaigning by their standards, but the political action committee, Friends of EMS, has received generous contributions from the St. Charles County Paramedics Association. They donated more than $39,000 to Friends of EMS as of April 1, 2014.

Last year, The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported Friends of EMS received $55,000 out of more than $59,000 from district workers, in the form of $400 contributions.

“Reports submitted by the campaign group, Friends of EMS, showed more than 100 district workers via individual donations provided at least $55,000 of the $59,611 reported raised by March 21.”

Polls open at 6:00 a.m. and Close at 7:00 p.m.