CARTHAGE, Ill. -- Hancock County officials are exploring options to make its ambulance service financially viable again.
Warsaw Ambulance shifted from a volunteer to salaried service in October, and the once profitable Hancock County EMS has been operating in a deficit since.
During the Hancock County Board meeting in June, several Warsaw residents voiced opposition to the prospects of having the ambulance service leave Warsaw. No decisions have been made as to the future of Warsaw Ambulance, and County Board Chairman Delbert Kreps said the closing was an idea "that got out somehow."
"Warsaw has always had an ambulance, and when you have something, it's hard to give it up," Kreps said. "I don't blame them. It would leave a lot of people uncovered."
Should Warsaw lose its ambulance, vehicles in Hancock County would be housed in Carthage, which would add an extra 15 to 20 minutes of travel time to calls in Warsaw and the surrounding area. Kreps said "those first 10 minutes can be pretty precious" in critical situations.
Hancock County EMS Director Gabe Smeltser has been working with Warsaw officials to find a solution that would, ideally, keep an ambulance stationed in Warsaw. Smeltser hopes the cooperation can lead to the service's return to volunteers.
"The service has been profitable since the county took it over (in 2014)," he said, "but the money just isn't there now."
Salaries make up the bulk of Hancock County EMS' annual expenses. The Warsaw Ambulance payroll is $23,000 a month. Hancock County EMS brings in $200,000 from property taxes annually, and about $900,000 from the runs it makes each year. It's current budget, Smeltser said, is $1.36 million, about $250,000 more than is coming in. The county recently dipped into a $250,000 line of credit it took out at its April meeting, the same meeting at which Smeltser assumed his current position.
Smeltser has suggested that if returning the service to volunteer status is not an option, a first responder unit could be established, which he said would require one person on duty at a time. Quadrupling the ambulance tax is another suggestion that Smeltser has made.
"I'm from Hamilton. I'm a volunteer firefighter there. I want an ambulance service in Warsaw," he said. "We won't rush it. We're going to take our time, minimizing the county's ambulance risk, and hope for a good outcome."
An ambulance service meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Bott Community Center, 705 Lafayette St., Warsaw, for all residents of Hancock County and the surrounding area to help keep the ambulance service in the community. For more information, call Vickie Bentzinger at 309-337-7678.