JASPER COUNTY — Jasper County’s three commissioners and the county council showed a willingness to work with township EMS services’ financial needs during a work session at the county fairgrounds on Thursday.
A formula was devised in the latter weeks of 2019 to help township EMS in Wheatfield, Keener in DeMotte and southern Jasper County or Carpenter Township in Remington with finances for the year 2020. But many at the work session voiced concern on how these townships will survive in subsequent years.
There is the proposed closing of NIPSCO in 2023 to consider as well.
“The largest taxpayer in the county,” said commissioner Kendell Culp, who called for the work session, “will not be the largest taxpayer for long.”
The government bodies, which must provide ambulance services throughout the county, subsidized township-run ambulance services for 2020 through a formula devised by Culp.
The subsidies are based on a percentage after the county pays for private ambulance service the county contracts with to cover the central portion of the county, including Rensselaer. That company, Phoenix ambulance services, bid for the right to service Marion Townships and outlying townships at a cost of $288,000, which is substantially more than the 2019 bid of $180,000.
Unfortunately for the county, Phoenix’s bid was the only one submitted. The county rejected Phoenix’s initial bid, advertised again for bids and received just the one bid from Phoenix again.
This left the other ambulance services without an increase in subsidy, while costs for the ambulance services continue to rise. Sue Steinke of the Wheatfield EMS said most of the money spent is for equipment upgrade and payroll.
Culp developed the formula as a way to avoid spending money on a consulting firm. The work session is another way for government officials to collect more information as they find ways to help the townships.
The 2020 budget for Keener Ambulance will be $235,964.79, up from $218, 485.92 in 2019. Wheatfield’s service will receive 203,771.50 in 2020, up from 181,938.84 and Carpenter Township’s service will see an uptick of $43,237.25 in 2020, which is slightly more than the $42.809.16 it received in 2019.
The county will likely see those numbers increase when the 2021 budget is considered later this year.
“We need to look at a multi-year plan to get something built up (for the townships),” Keener Township trustee Bob Bryan said.
Twenty people associated with maintaining EMS services for the county, including township trustees, four councilmen and the commissioners, were at the work session to hammer out a way to help fund those services.
One suggestion included asking Marion Township for help, though Marion is serviced by Phoenix. Another suggestion was to possibly add another rig to northern Jasper County and house it in a building closer to the central portion of the county to close the gap when a call is made south of DeMotte.
Bryan said the EMS service in DeMotte as well as the Wheatfield service do a good job of covering one another when one of their rigs is out on a call and another one comes in. It’s that willingness to help one another in the northern end that will likely sustain both departments.
“If all the townships work together with the county as the umbrella, then it doesn’t become so volatile,” Culp said.
The northern end of the county is experiencing the most population growth, while the southern end has the smallest area with a smaller population. But Remington stays busy with I-65 running through its side yard.
There are currently five ambulances that service the whole county.
Bryan said increases in EMS service cost is something that didn’t occur overnight. He said it’s been a budding problem for 10, 12 years.
“We’re not overspending,” Bryan said. “We’re not spending our money on something we don’t need. We’re just experiencing growing pains in the northern end, and we hope to accommodate that somehow.”
Wheatfield’s EMS service also spends most of its money on personnel, equipment and maintenance of its rigs.
Remington actually took more money in than what it paid out for 2019. Carpenter Township officials said its service’s proximity to Lafayette, where many patients are transferred, helps keep the costs down.
Culp said he will talk with Marion Township trustee Dain Hayworth, who was also at the work session before leaving for a prior engagement. Hayworth said his township will do whatever it can to assist with other townships in the county.