Douglas County learns Baldwin City will lose an ambulance in 2011
A Baldwin City-based ambulance is on track to be eliminated next year, with half its crew to be recalled to Lawrence, Douglas County commissioners learned Tuesday.
The Baldwin City-based ambulance service — posted for the past 12 years in a converted home south of Baldwin High School — would be replaced with a slimmed-down version: a fully stocked SUV or similar vehicle, to be operated by a paramedic but without the emergency medical technician necessary to transport patients.
The shift would be expected to save Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical $65,000 next year in overtime expenses.
“We have the reduction in our costs, our personnel costs, but I believe it reduces the service level in the county that we’ve been accustomed to,” acknowledged Mark Bradford, the department’s chief, during a budget hearing at the Douglas County Courthouse.
County commissioners learned of the planned shift Tuesday morning, during their second day of hearings regarding their proposed $69 million budget for 2011.
The decision about the ambulance is officially out of their hands — it’s been outlined in next year’s proposed budget for the city of Lawrence — but it represents one of many spending decisions being driven by dwindling revenues and economic pressures facing local governments and their constituents.
Commissioners still are considering a county budget that would include an increase in property taxes: 5.23 mills as of Tuesday, after having been 5.44 mills just last week. With a mill equal to $1 in tax for each $1,000 in a property’s assessed valuation, the owner of a $150,000 home would pay another $90.22 in taxes next year.
The budget doesn’t include keeping an ambulance on duty in Baldwin City, where the existing crew focuses its attention on calls in the southern third of the county.
Even with the budget cut, area residents would still have access to emergency services. A paramedic would remain stationed in Baldwin City, ready to respond to accidents and other emergencies, Bradford said.
But the vehicle would not be able to transport anyone to a hospital. For that, he said, people would need to wait for an ambulance to come from elsewhere.
The remaining five ambulances all would be based out of stations in Lawrence, with an ability to respond to sites anywhere in the county.
“It’s a necessary step taken by the city to meet their objectives,” said County Administrator Craig Weinaug, of city commissioners’ desire to not increase the city’s property tax rate. “Whether the savings involved is worth the diminishment of services is really a political call. … It’s their prerogative to make the call.”
Douglas County pays a share of personnel costs for Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical.
County Commissioner Jim Flory said he would be open to looking into options for retaining the ambulance in Baldwin City, including the possibility of the county providing additional financing. Such discussions will come later, likely next week during budget hearings.
Commissioners intend to accept public comment about their ongoing budget deliberations during a meeting at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at the County Courthouse, 1100 Mass.
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