After a tense meeting earlier this month to kick off budget discussions, the Pettis County Ambulance District Board of Directors continued those talks during Tuesday night’s meeting.
During a work session before the regular meeting, CFO Jamie Luebbering again presented the proposed 2020 budget and went over the district’s equipment replacement plan.
The board has talked several times about increasing its cash reserves. Luebbering said the district has about $1.7 million in total checking/savings and that the district has about $460,000 in operating expenses each month, not including capital purchases.
“That may seem like a lot, but we have almost four months in cash reserves using that figure,” she said. “When you look at how much it costs to run this district, it’s not very much (in reserves).”
She noted that the EMS industry recommends having closer to one year’s worth of cash reserves on hand.
Luebbering again talked about the need to increase the starting wage to keep up with Missouri’s increase to $12 in 2023. Member Mike Brown agreed that $11 isn’t enough for EMTs and treasurer John Fritz said the district needs increased wages to remain competitive with other districts. Luebbering has budgeted for a 7% increase in employee wages in 2020, with continued increases until 2023.
The budget discussions also included the district equipment replacement plan created this spring. EMS Assistant Chief Roy Pennington talked about the need for replacing 25 of 36 radios next year. There is a “good percentage that are due to be replaced and most are failing at an alarming rate already.”
Three handheld radios capable of working on the statewide network were purchased earlier this year and “they work great.” Pennington said they’ve been able to reach from Kansas City to Sedalia and from Columbia to Sedalia, offer new features and are higher quality. The radios come at a cost of roughly $4,000 each.
“The investment will be huge, it costs a lot more than what we have now, but the quality is better, it’s what the industry is using, and they’ll last at least 10 years,” he said. “My initial thought was to spread this out but with central dispatch coming I think it’s better to be up and ready when they’re online.”
Pennington said the remaining radios would be purchased over the next few years.
After Fritz’s suggestion during the last meeting, he again brought up increasing the district’s sales tax rate from .45% to .5%. The board decreased the rate this spring at the suggestion of Chairman John Meehan.
“When you kick the can down the road you better have a plan for that can the next time you come to it and we don't, we don’t have a strategic plan of where we as a board want to be in the next 15 years. We have this piece of paper but made no commitment to it. We have to make hard choices and commitments,” he said of the equipment plan.
Based on 2018 and 2019 sales tax revenue, Luebbering is budgeting for $3.07 million under the .5% rate and $2.76 under the .45% rate.
“This is kind of a new (equipment replacement) plan and I know that has landed in your lap but this stuff, we do take care of it and try to stretch it as long as we can, but the reality is all of this stuff is eventually going to wear out. The radios Roy is talking about, they’ve been failing literally one every other week. It’s getting to the point where it is in a crisis situation,” EMS Chief Eric Dirck said. “... It is vitally important that we address this.”
Dirck reminded the board PCAD has more than doubled its call volume since the district was formed six years ago. With an increase in call volume and Medicare reimbursement not increasing, he warned that the funding gap would only increase.
During the regular meeting, the board approved an ordinance increasing the sales tax rate to its original level of .5%. Meehan voted no.
Meehan reported that power line safety markers have been installed near the Route TT site. Central Missouri Electric installed them at no cost to the district.
Member Greg Nehring was absent.