Countywide Emergency Medical Services funding will be on the ballot November 7
SHELBY COUNTY — Voters in Shelby County will vote on Emergency Medical Services essential funding November 7. Public Measure TD asks voters to fund a county wide EMS service for a period of 15 years through a tax levy. The proposed amount is $.75 cents per $1,000 of taxable property within the county. In addition, there will be an income surtax assessment on Iowa individuals’ income tax returns for Shelby County residents at a rate of 1%.
The measure needs 60% voter approval to pass.
As of now, county volunteer rescue departments are not tax funded. Iowa Code states in order to use property tax and the income tax surcharge for EMS, it first must be designated an “essential service”.
Earlier this year, the Shelby County Board of Supervisors held a series of public hearings, where several of the county’s volunteer departments, cities, businesses, and other entities voiced support of the essential service designation. The Board passed a resolution declaring EMS an essential service in Shelby County, allowing the measure to be put on the ballot.
The County formed an EMS Advisory Council, consisting of Tim Plumb, Chairperson, Shelby County ESA; Bryce Schaben, Vice Chair, Board of Supervisors; Alex Londo, Secretary, EMA; Roger Bissen, Fire Chief, City of Harlan; Karen Schlueter, City of Shelby; Janice Gaul, City of Earling; and Jenny Lefeber, Myrtue Medical Center (MMC).
The Advisory Council assessed the need for an EMS system, and has proposed the creation of a county-wide EMS system. The council said the goal is to maintain and eventually increase the level of support to the volunteer units, and provide the same critical care transport service currently provided by a private company, Medivac Ambulance Corp, located in Harlan. The owners of Medivac have announced they will retire by June 30, 2026.
Currently, when someone in Harlan calls 911, Medivac responds. If the call is outside of the Harlan response area, the nearest EMS volunteer squad is dispatched, along with Medivac, if needed. Since the early 1970’s, all Shelby County citizens have been served by a combination of volunteers and paid EMS providers. Local volunteers staff ambulances and provide basic first-response emergency care.
Nationwide, volunteer fire and rescue departments have seen a decline in members. Seventy-five percent of Iowa’s EMS personnel are volunteer based, including approximately 48 in Shelby County.
“We have to keep reaching out further and further to other communities to get ambulances in a time where minutes count,” Advisory Council Chairperson and Irwin Fire Chief Tim Plumb said. “Right now, there is no guarantee an ambulance will show up.”
“The numbers of volunteers continue to decrease, and the funds continue to decrease.”
Alex Londo, Advisory Council Member and Shelby County Emergency Management Coordinator said the county wide service will not take the place of the volunteer departments.
“The proposed plan will rely on the volunteers just as much as we do now,” Londo said. “The measure would provide a guaranteed response to both the rescue departments and citizens of Shelby County.”
The measure has earmarked $90,000 of tax dollars for volunteer departments to use for equipment, training, or other supplies. The council hopes this will give the volunteer departments group buying power, enabling them to get supplies cheaper, and to be able to move supplies throughout the county to better utilize the supply on hand.
Steve Kenkel, Chairman of the Shelby County Board of Supervisors, credits the area volunteer agencies. “If it wasn’t for the volunteers, this would have happened decades ago. Those volunteer groups have been dwindling and dwindling by no fault of their own,” Kenkel said.
“They have saved the county millions and millions of dollars over the years that we didn’t think about and took for granted, so we aren’t pushing them out. This is to work together and be a team. If the volunteers went away, this would cost us even more.”
An important element of EMS is the ability to transfer critical patients to a higher level of hospital care if, and when, needed. Myrtue Medical Center Emergency Room Manager Jennifer Lefeber, RN, BSN, TCRN, said the quicker the patient is diagnosed, transfer is arranged, and the patient is transported to another facility, the better the outcome is likely to be. “This lifesaving transition of care could not be done without the efforts of the paid service,” Lefeber said.
If the measure passes, property tax funding will be collected starting in September 2024. The 2024-2025 fiscal year will be dedicated to acquiring a facility, purchasing needed equipment and supplies, and developing the program, the Advisory Council stated. The county-wide service will consist of two fully staffed crews of one supervisor, six paramedics and six EMTs. Shelby County currently owns two of the ambulances used by Medivac, while the remaining ambulance and the building would be purchased. The council hopes the service will be operating by 2026.
“This is what the future of EMS needs to be for Shelby County,” said Advisory Council Member and Harlan Fire Chief Roger Bissen. “Just imagine if we didn’t have it.”
“I know it’s an expense and another cost, but what are our priorities?”, Kenkel asked. “We are giving the people the opportunity to decide.”