Keener Township EMS

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JASPER COUNTY — Township-run ambulance services could get some help from the county if budget increases for 2020 are approved by the Jasper County Council later this month.

At Monday’s Jasper County Commissioners meeting, president Kendall Culp and commissioners Jim Walstra and Dick Maxwell voted to send the council proposed budget increases of 8% for Keener’s ambulance service, 12% for Wheatfield and 1% for Remington for its approval. These increases are for the year 2020 only and could be adjusted when talks begin on the 2021 budget.

Culp based the increases on a formula that takes into account service points such as the presence of I-65 in the coverage area, truck stops, number of square miles, population and number of 911 addresses.

The commissioners would like to see a formula developed by 2021 that would help calculate the amount of increases townships would receive in the future.

“We’d like to come up with a formula that lasts,” Culp said.

Current subsidies for township-run services are based on a percentage after the private ambulance service the county contracts with is paid to cover the middle portion of the county, including Rensselaer.

The commissioners recently received just one bid from the current service, Phoenix, at a much higher amount than they had previously paid and budgeted for 2020. Phoenix, which provided the only bid when commissioners approved a rebid later, said it needed a 38 percent increase to sustain itself, which would leave other ambulance services without an increase in subsidies even as those services continue to rise.

“We try to keep our services adequately running up on line,” said Keener Township trustee Bob Bryan. “Obviously, there is a lot of changes in the EMS world.”

Keener had 1,174 calls in 2019 with 736 calls for transports.

“Yes, it is an increase, and we appreciate that,” Bryan told the commissioners. “But if we compare Jasper County to other neighboring counties, Newton County has a $1.1 million budget where they’re running two rigs 24/7. If you combine (services) in our county we’re running four rigs 24/7, so the amount of people, the amount of runs, our residents have not just an adequate EMS but they have a very, very good EMS.

“I understand that the situation caught everybody by surprise but going forward we’d really like to, again with your help, be able to bring all of our EMS departments where it needs to be.”

Sue Steinke of Wheatfield EMS said she liked the model for the commissioners’ new formula, but was concerned about whether the proposed increase for her department would be for 2020 only with no talk of increases in the future.

The commissioners couldn’t guarantee increases every year, but hope to come up with a system that would assist township departments after 2020.