By MATT HOPF
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
The Adams County Board approved an annual budget Tuesday night that calls for raising the property tax revenue by $200,000 for the cash-strapped Ambulance Service, but the new board to be seated next month will not be bound to that decision when it votes on that levy.
The budget for the Ambulance Service, which is expected to end the fiscal year Nov. 30 more than $100,000 in the red, calls for $3.130 million in spending on revenues of $3.267 million. The revenue portion includes a levy increase to $700,000 from $500,000, which the Ambulance Board had requested.
County Board member John Heidbreder, R-4, introduced the amendment to increase the department's revenue by saying that if the county is going to operate an ambulance system, then it should fund it.
Finance Committee Chairman John Johnson, R-4, echoed that statement by saying the additional revenue could help stabilize the department's cash balance.
"The extra $200,000 offsets what their losses have been," Johnson said. "If their expenses are close and their revenues projections are close, they'll end next year hopefully in the black. It won't be a lot of black, but it will be there."
Still, the measure passed by a slim 11-9 vote. Board member Matt Obert, R-5, was absent. There will be seven new members when the next board is seated in December.
"Without (the additional revenue), we were more than likely going to have to cut service somewhere along the line to make ends meet," said County Board member Les Post, R-6.
The property tax levy for the Ambulance Service has been held at $500,000 in each of the past two years. An attempt to increase it by $200,000 was defeated by the County Board last December.
Voters in 2002 authorized the county to levy up to 25 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to help fund the Ambulance Service, but the Republican-controlled County Board has resisted doing so because members have not wanted to increase the county's overall tax levy. The county levied just 5 cents in each of the past two years for the Ambulance Service, and just 1 cent in 2010.
At an Ambulance Board meeting earlier Tuesday, Chairman Larry Flesner said a yearlong study took place before the department based a third ambulance in Quincy and increased the fleet to six in 2010.
"We thought when we added the sixth ambulance, the math worked," Flesner said. "If we raised our rates $100, it would cover all but about $50,000 of that ambulance."
The Ambulance Board increased fees by 25 percent when the ambulance was added and 40 percent this year to help close its cash-flow gap. But Ambulance Service Director Paul Davis said the increase in patients now covered under Medicaid has reduced revenue.
"Our Public Aid clients have doubled from 6 percent to 13 percent," Davis said. "We also saw that those who had insurance decreased by about 3 percent."
Medicaid pays $67 per patient, while Medicare covers about $350 to $400. The basic fee is $700.
"When we say Quincy ambulance, it's a bit of a misnomer," Board member Paul Havermale said, noting that ambulances stationed in Quincy cover an area stretching east to Burton Township, south to the Pike County line and north to Bloomfield Road.
Finance Committee member Duane Venvertloh, R-7, told the Ambulance Board on Tuesday morning that he doesn't think a higher levy will fix the funding problem. He voted against the measure Tuesday night.
"If I thought the $700,000 was going to fix the Ambulance Service's financial situation, I would be in favor of it, but I don't think it's going to," Venvertloh said. "Next year, if we fund it at $700,000, I think we'd be back here asking for more" in later years.
Venvertloh said the department continues to budget for flat revenue growth since the introduction of the third Quincy ambulance.
"It would stand to reason that if we have more service, more ambulances, that our revenues would be increasing," he said. "You're proposing a budget where your revenue is flat on all items other than taxes, yet your expenses go up.
"It's very difficult to take those dollars away from other departments and increase the ambulance's funding by 40 percent because the Ambulance Board says, ‘We need it.' I don't doubt that you believe you need it, but every department head across this county believes and knows the same thing. But they also realize that there isn't an endless pot of money."
The county's overall budget for the fiscal year that begins Dec. 1, which was approved Tuesday night, budget calls for $13.341 million in spending, up 0.3 percent from the budget that the County Board approved last November, and revenues of $12.623 million, an increase of 2 percent. The budget was approved on a 20-0 vote.
The county's general fund budget is facing a projected deficit of $46,800, which would be covered by the balance of the general fund.
The budget included 2 percent raises that were included in union contracts and calls for $138,000 for six squad cars for the Sheriff's Department, $15,000 for new radios for jail workers, $10,000 to replace four showers in one section of the jail and $37,000 for a new jail management software system — although the cost of the latter will be spread over five years and a portion includes annual maintenance costs.