The Minonk City Council discussed the possibility of transferring the ambulance service to the Minonk Fire Department at their Monday night council meeting. City Administrator Bill Moline said the city wishes to sign an agreement with the Fire Department that would transfer the ambulance service to the Fire Department in order to provide a broader tax basis for funding the ambulance service. Mr. Moline said the fire department tax levy can bring in an extra $60,000 to fund the ambulance service which will allow the purchase of more equipment and handle future cost increases. He said the city will continue to support the administrative duties of the ambulance employees such as payroll, insurance, and scheduling. The transfer is meant to be for funding purposes only.
The head of the Minonk Fire Department Board of Trustees, Gary Wolf, was reluctant to go along with the agreement. He said the fire department would need to have a referendum passed to raise the tax levy from 3.0 to 4.0 in order to fund the ambulance service. He also said he was advised by his attorneys not to go along with the agreement because of the employee liability.
Mr. Wolf said the fire department does not want to accept the liability of having responsibility for the ambulance employees even though he understood that the city will take care of the administrative responsibilities for the ambulance employees. He said if the agreement between the city and the fire department goes awry, the fire department will "be left holding the bag." He said the fire department has no paid employees and has no experience in dealing with payroll, pensions and insurance.
Mr. Wolf also stated that the rural area provides 2/3 of the tax dollars for the fire department while the city area provides only 1/3 even though the majority of ambulance calls are for the city rather than the country. He said farmers will object to having a tax increase that for a service that benefits the city more than the country.
Alderman Russell Ruestman said other communities have fire departments that fund their ambulance service. He also said the Minonk Fire Department has the lowest tax levy in the county and has other fund items on which they could levy a tax in addition to the ambulance tax.
Mr. Wolf said the fire department has a limit on how much they levy on taxes and once that limit is reached and ambulance costs continue to increase, services will have to be cut. He also said the Minonk ambulance squad is a highly professional unit and said for the ambulance service to remain viable it needs to achieve economies of scale by expanding its service area which will bring in more revenue.
Mayor Bill Koos asked why is it fair for Minonk residents to have to pay a higher tax to fund an increase in ambulance cost when the rural residents benefit also from the ambulance service. Mayor Koos also asked Mr. Wolf about the social responsibility of having an ambulance service to which Mr. Wolf replied he does not care about social responsibility.
Mayor Koos said Minonk does not have the luxury of a tax base like El Paso's to fund an ambulance squad. He said we are a rural community that is 15 minutes away from the next ambulance service and 30 minutes from the nearest hospital. He said the people of Minonk depend on the city to provide ambulance service and "cannot understand why we would want to wait 15 minutes instead of 4 minutes for an ambulance to arrive."
City Treasurer Steve O'Riely asked Mr. Wolf if the fire department's maximum tax levy rate can be set at 5.0 to which Mr. Wolf replied that the absolute maximum rate is 4.0.
Mayor Koos said he wants to verify facts with the city attorney to make sure the city has accurate information on the 911 agreement. He said he doesn't want a new agreement to turn the ambulance into a basic service.
In other business, the city approved a new parking restriction at the Fieldcrest Primary school in order to provide ample parking space for buses picking up students. The new parking ordinance prohibits parking on Sixth street between Johnson street and the alley between Johnson and Lincoln streets to allow for bus parking. In addition, a no parking sign will be placed between the pedestrian crossing sign on Fifth street and the corner of Johnson street.
The council approved a request from the Minonk Garden Club to pay for 50% of a $700 upgrade to the landscaping and gardening in Cannon Park along the 400 block of Chestnut street.
City Treasurer Steve O'Riely presented an update on the 19/20 Budget YTD for the first 3 months of the fiscal year which showed the budget is 17% used.
City Administrator Bill Moline gave the following update on projects.
- Reminder the first meeting in Sept. is on Tuesday 9-3 due to the Holiday
- WTP upgrade update - bypass tie in completed from well to tower started on
- Bypass to bypass the clear well and degasifier is completed. Need to put out a notice on a couple of items before they can start working inside on piping. Should start in a couple of weeks or sooner.
- IEPA Inspection at WWTP took place Tuesday - went well but will have a couple of items to get corrected
Kevin Lindley: OMG!!! The fire department wants nothing to do with the ambulance squad. Never has!!!!
Brandi Kline Hofmann: I have so many questions. The trustee appears to be providing opinions rather than facts and the board needs to press him on which is which.
If Mr. Wolf is worried about an agreement between the fire department and the city going awry, there are legal routes the injured party can take at that time. Does the city have a history on breaking contracts? If so, does it break them with residents, businesses, or services? We can then determine if Mr. Wolf's worries are corroborated by evidence.
Next, Mr. Wolf objects to tax levies for people in rural areas and this appears to be opinion based. I have to wonder if it affects him personally. The rural population is covered by the ambulance, regardless of whether they choose to utilize the service or not.