Ambulance District sales tax estimates evolving

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

2014 figures suggest half-percent tax could generate nearly $615K

The South Barry County Ambulance District board of directors has proposed a half-percent sales tax to completely replace its property tax, and estimates as to the revenue the tax would garner have been evolving.

Ken Cieslinski, district board chairman, said the board began to form its sales tax proposal long before 2014 figures were available, so the board has been forced to use 2013 figures to estimate projected revenues.

The proposal, which will be on the ballot on April 7, would generate about $570,000, according updated numbers from the ambulance board, which originally figured it would generate about $490,313 for all municipalities in the district. Cieslinski said the original estimate was an oversight, as Exeter and Shell Knob total taxable sales were left out because of human error.

Using 2014 figures listed at dor.mo.gov/publicreports, municipalities and un-incorporated areas in the district reported $122,989,620 in total taxable sales. If a half-percent tax was applied to that amount, it would generate about $614,948. Municipalities and un-incorporated areas included in the figures are, in no particular order: Cassville, Jenkins, Wheaton, Ridgley, Butterfield, Exeter, Washburn, Seligman, Eagle Rock, Golden and Shell Knob.

Cieslinski said the board's 2013 numbers are accurate, but not current, and if the measure passes and tax revenues become too great, the tax amount would likely be reduced.

"If it passes, the first year will be a half-cent," he said. "But, if there are more proceeds than what it takes to provide services, we would reduce the tax, and the ballot language is written to give us that option."

Cieslinski said he believes the proposal is necessary and a part of his commitment to the people who live in the district.

"We are on a dead-end road, and it would be a dereliction of my duties to not bring this proposal to voters," he said. "And, we encourage everyone to hold us accountable so we do what they trust us to do. "

With the current property tax, the district ended 2014 with total revenues of $227,419, and expenses totaled $273,140, putting the district $45,721 in the red for the year, one of three in-the-red years of the last five years overall. With $222,597 carrying over from 2013, the district had $176,876 cash on hand as of Jan. 1. Funding for the ambulance district has been the same since it was formed in May 1974.

"There are about 3,000 calls a year that the ambulance district goes on, and nearly one-third of those calls are non-resident," Cieslinski said. "As it is right now, the only people that are helping making that service available are those who pay on the ambulance portion of the property tax. [The measure] will repeal that 100 percent and replace it with what I believe to be a more fair sales tax base."

Both local residents and anyone visiting the area would contribute to the service, he said.

If the voters approve the ballot measure, the district will work with the Missouri Department of Revenue to initiate the sales tax between four to six months after the April election.

According to state statute, the sales tax must be collected for at least a year before the property tax is eliminated. In 2015, the district will continue operating solely on property taxes. In 2016, both the property tax and the sales tax would be collected.

By Sept. 1, 2016, the district would have two possibilities. The first possibility is it may eliminate the property tax completely, but only if it has collected the sales tax for a calendar year, per state mandate. The second possibility is, if the sales tax has not been collected for a full year at that time, the district would roll back the property tax by at least 50 percent, Cieslinski said.

If the district must adhere to the second possibility, the property tax would drop to zero on Sept. 1, 2017, when the district would notify the Missouri Department of Revenue the property tax is repealed. The year-long process is mandated by state statute, as August is when the district must report its tax information.

The district owns one facility in Cassville and six ambulances. The ambulance district uses another facility, which is owned by the Central Crossing Fire District in Shell Knob.

Central Crossing lets the ambulance district use the facility for free, said Tom Rees, ambulance district board member representing Shell Knob. The ambulance district just has to maintain the building.

Since 1988, the district has contracted with CoxHealth to provide the emergency medical services. The current three-year contract with CoxHealth runs through 2016. CoxHealth has nine paramedics and nine emergency medical technicians who cover the district.

In the current contract, the ambulance district pays CoxHealth $95,400 per year from the funds generated by the property tax, Rees said. The district pays that total in quarterly installments.

The district does not receive any money from ambulance calls, Cieslinski said. That money goes to CoxHealth for services rendered.

"We pay the $95,400 for the [paramedic and EMT] service because there's no way we could provide [paramedic and EMT] service for that kind of money," he said. "Cox insures the ambulances, does upkeep on them and maintains them. We pay for the physical vehicle, then Cox takes it from there. The tax is only there to make sure the ambulances are available at the public's disposal, and the bill from Cox is for its services rendered."

Rees said the ambulances take patients to Mercy hospitals about 52 percent of the time, and they take patients to CoxHealth hospitals about 13 percent of the time.

"The EMT services are not a part of the network system, and are totally separate from the hospital billing system," said Rees, according to a conversation he had with a CoxHealth representative.

Four of the six ambulances have more than 200,000 miles on the odometer, according to district documents. An ambulance refit costs more than $130,000. The district must refit, retire or buy an ambulance each year to keep up with the area's needs. The additional funding could pay for new ambulance equipment, such as cots and Lifepak units, which cost $7,500 and $35,000 each, respectively.

The district needs to replace four Lifepak units. They interpret heart rhythms, identify people who are having heart attacks, shock people during cardiac arrest and measure vital signs. The district also wants to get portable ventilators and an auto-pulse device that provides better blood flow during cardiac arrest.

Rees said the district could use another facility to cut down on call times, but that plan would require more staff and a bigger contract.

The district's northern boundary is just south of Purdy, its western boundary stops at McDonald County, its southern boundary is the Missouri-Arkansas border, and its eastern boundary encompasses part of Shell Knob.

The South Barry County Ambulance District board of directors has six members. The board meets at 6 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month in the main district facility, located at 73 Smithson Drive in Cassville.

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