The Pettis County Ambulance District Board of Directors had a relatively short meeting Tuesday night with a heated debate about the district’s financial future.
Board Treasurer John Fritz and CFO Jamie Luebbering presented a preliminary 2020 budget; Fiscal Year 2020 will begin Jan. 1. They both noted it will be updated as more specific information is available, such as the increase in employee benefits that will be determined this fall and how the board plans to handle increasing wages to keep up with Missouri’s changing minimum wage law. For now, Luebbering said she estimated 6% and 7% increases, respectively.
“We have to factor in something to get our wages up,” she said. “Our EMT starting wage is $11 an hour and in 2023 minimum wage will be $12. We have to do something to stay within the law. If we don’t start now it’s going to be a very large jump.”
Estimates were also made based on the Fiscal Year 2019 budget for Windsor Ambulance District operations, as the two boards are in contract negotiations.
Luebbering said the district does have an opportunity for potential additional revenue through the federal government’s Ground Emergency Medical Transportation program, which provides supplemental payments to qualified GEMT providers. Luebbering will compile data regarding the district’s cost to serve patients in 2019. She said 40 districts in Missouri participated in 2018 and received a total of $20 million. She said PCAD did not participate last year because not enough data was available prior to her employment with the district.
The capital improvement plan lists two new ambulance purchases in 2020. However, Fritz said with the purchase of a new ambulance last month using primarily insurance funds to replace the unit damaged in a July 4 wreck, EMS Chief Eric Dirck said he thinks they might be able to delay those. Fritz also said a planned $84,000 for a cot loading system won’t be needed.
Another assumption was also included in the preliminary budget: that the board will reinstate the district’s sales tax to 0.5% after voting this spring to decrease it to 0.45%. The board sets the rate each year but it had been unchanged from 0.5% since the district was formed. The board’s decision was met with disappointment from employees who attended several meetings to voice their opinion.
All those preliminary numbers put the budget $200,000 from balanced, according to Fritz and Luebbering.
“I don’t see anything other than asking the board to return to a half-cent sales tax,” Fritz said. “We have a responsibility to render the highest quality of care and I just don’t see us doing that, and embracing the capital improvement plan without bringing back that portion of the sales tax.
“We haven’t even touched on the basis of cash reserves, which the board has wanted to go forward and do some planning.”
Board member Mike Layton said he thinks they didn’t factor in extra costs when deciding to roll back the tax rate earlier this year. He said he’d be in favor of increasing it.
Board member Nick Gerke said he agreed with Layton, noting the district will never be able to build other satellite stations if cash reserves don’t increase.
Board members Greg Nehring and Mike Brown said they’d both like more information before making any final decisions; the board typically approves a final budget toward the end of the year.
Board Chairman John Meehan requested that administrative staff bring the board a balanced preliminary budget based on the current sales tax rate before discussing an increased rate.
The agenda included voting on the tax rate, which was tabled to a future meeting. Fritz was vocal about being displeased with the meeting’s result.
“I've been asked by the public if we have enough cash to plan for the future of this district and unfortunately that answer was no,” he said. “... I just don’t know what other numbers can be placed in front of folks to let them know I think the board has errored in not using what the taxpayers blessed us with. When these numbers come together like this and we have to shave off things our CFO says we need for ambulance services that we promise the public we’ll do, we’re in dangerous territory.”
During his report, Dirck said PCAD’s call volume has almost caught up to 2018 numbers. Year to date, PCAD has responded to 4,912 calls compared to 4,925 in 2018. In Windsor, call volume is still lower than in 2018. PCAD’s Windsor site has responded to 735 calls compared to 866 in 2018.
The board adjourned to a closed session for legal actions, any documents related to a negotiated contract until a contract is executed, and records which are protected from disclosure by law.
All members were present, including several members of the Windsor Ambulance District Board of Directors who stayed for the closed session.