The News Editorial: Ambulance service: essential or not, you decide
March 3, 2022
Kudos to the Washakie County Commissioners, who as they have in the past, took the reins to begin the discussion of continuing the general purpose one-cent sales tax. Voters have approved the tax twice in the past eight years.
The current tax has helped fund projects with the City of Worland, Town of Ten Sleep, Worland and Ten Sleep senior centers, Crisis Prevention and Response Center, Worland Community Center Complex and the Worland Fire Protection District No. 1.
Four years ago the commissioners spearheaded the effort to get the tax back on the ballot, even though they were seeking no funding from the fifth-cent as it is also called.
This year, however, is a different story. When the volunteer ambulance service was struggling to maintain 24-hour coverage a year ago, the county stepped up and contracted with Cody Regional Health to provide an ambulance service for Washakie County, primarily the Worland area with Ten Sleep continuing their own ambulance service.
They knew they had funding for a three-year contract with funds that were collected from ambulance fees under the volunteer program. Those fees are no longer coming to the county so two years from now (with the first year of the contract completed) when the county will need to renegotiate with Cody Regional they need to ensure they have funding for that contract.
Aaron Anderson said they need to have the discussions now to make sure funding is in place, not in two years.
There are several options before the county but they all depend on county residents to support the option at the polls this November. They could be part of the fifth-cent/general purpose optional one-cent sale tax, they could seek their own half-cent sales tax for the specific purpose of the ambulance service or they could seek to form a rural health district like south Big Horn County did to fund their ambulance service many years ago.
There are advantages and disadvantages with each option but it all comes down to whether the community will support it.
The optional fifth penny tax is not a new tax. It has been going for eight years, with voters renewing it in 2018. The other two options would be new taxes.
I am usually in favor of sales tax as I feel it is the fairest tax with nearly everyone paying it. It is hard to face taxes with rising inflation and cost of food and utilities continuing to rise.
However, what happens in two years if there is no funding for an ambulance service? According to Chairman Fred Frandson by state statute ambulance services are not considered essential services. The commissioners, however, feel that they are essential which is why they are working so hard to keep up the level of service that they have now.
As they mulled options during Tuesday’s commissioner meeting, it was not only the current service they were looking at funding, but also a paid service for Ten Sleep and using the funding to pay for the air medical membership with Guardian Flight/Air Med.
You can’t depend on going back to a volunteer service because all new equipment would have to be purchased and if volunteers were tough to find a year ago it may be even tougher two years from now.
Most of us know someone who has benefited from the air medical evacuation membership and some of us have probably had to call for an ambulance or know someone who needed one.
So come November, whatever option the commissioners choose, it will be up to the residents of Washakie County to determine if they feel ambulance services are essential and if so are they willing to support them financially through some sort of tax.