kelly.evenson@examiner.net
Nationally, only 6 percent of cardiac arrest patients who are taken by ambulance to a hospital survive to leave the hospital, says Fire Chief Steve Westermann of the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District. However, in the CJC District, that survival rate is far higher, with more than 50 percent surviving. Westermann said this is not only a testament to individuals in the community who are trained in CPR but also the additional training, services and treatment that CJC has made a priority to provide. “If you look at the city’s survey over the past several years, you will see fire and EMS at the top of that list even though it is not a city department,” he said. “To us, that is the citizens saying what level of service they want. We have been good stewards of the money given to us and have used additional funds to be able to provide that increased level of service.” Keeping that level of service is at the center of a tax levy election Tuesday. Residents of the fire district, which includes Blue Springs, Grain Valley, Lake Tapawingo and parts of unincorporated Eastern Jackson County, are being asked to consider a 15-cent levy increase per $100 of assessed valuation. The levy increase is needed to shift the cost of CJC’s EMS services from the city of Blue Springs solely to CJC. If approved, the increase would begin in December. Residents would see a nickel the first year, a dime the second year and then the full 15 cents the third year. The owner of a $100,000 house would pay an extra 71 cents per month the first year, $1.58 per month the second year and an extra $2.38 when the levy increase is fully in place at 15 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. Currently, the city of Grain Valley or its residents, as well as Lake Tapawingo, pay nothing for the EMS service. When the contract started in 1992, the emergency calls from Grain Valley represented about 1 percent of calls. More than 20 years later, those calls represent 14 to 15 percent of CJC’s total calls. The city of Blue Springs holds the license for EMS for the area that CJC covers. It has contracted with CJC since 1992 to do the work. However, after medical payments and billing, which equates to around $1.4 million, the city still subsidizes the service between $700,000 and $800,000 annually. The remaining $300,000 needed to operate the service comes from CJC’s fire levy. The city also helps to pay for capital costs, such as new ambulances, which would also end if the levy is approved. However, in October 2012, Blue Springs decided that it wanted to transfer the EMS license to CJC, ending its financial obligation. In order to maintain the level of service those in the CJC coverage area have come to expect and to offset the city’s financial assistance, the tax levy increase, Westermann said, is necessary. “By agreement, the city of Blue Springs wants to transfer the license. Blue Springs wants to be totally out of EMS service. We have proven capable of handling the service the last 21 years,” he said. “Almost every presentation we have given we have heard a testimonial from someone who has benefited from the EMS service. The positive response has been overwhelming.” What the city will do with the additional funds once the levy has been fully implemented has been the subject of heated debate not only among members of the Blue Springs City Council, but also in the community. Council Member Ron Fowler believes that if the election is successful, Blue Springs residents will essentially be double-taxed for EMS service. He believes that the city council should roll back its property tax since it will no longer be paying for the EMS service. The rest of the city council has decided to take a wait-and-see approach, preferring to see some hard numbers as to what a successful CJC levy election would mean. Westermann said he has been getting questions about this idea of “double taxation,” mainly asking what the city will do with the additional funds. “We can’t answer for the city as to what they will do with the money. We just have to refer them to their city councilman,” he said. “We are cautious, and I am concerned about this issue. Some people have said they though they still support us and the service we provide, they will vote no because of that (a potential double-taxation).” Westermann said if the issue fails, there are likely three options. The city allows CJC to try one more time at a tax levy increase election, the city continues with the current agreement with CJC or the city opts to start a bidding process for EMS service. If that were to happen, CJC might not be the ones to continue providing EMS service. “Sure, we would bid on it, but I don’t know that we would get it,” Westermann said. “I also don’t know that the city would want to continue with the agreement because they have expressed their interest to end it.”