New ambulance service for Bismarck on ballot

New ambulance service for Bismarck on ballot

BISMARCK — For the last few years, the Bismarck Community Ambulance Service has struggled to staff the service.

Now officials are hoping to dissolve the private service and establish a new tax-based ambulance service, staffed by volunteer emergency medical technicians and paramedics, for residents in the Bismarck Community Fire Protection District.

"This will allow us to provide better care for the community," said Jenny Merrell, the ambulance service's treasurer and a longtime EMT. "It will mean a faster response time, there will be more volunteers who will respond to calls and it will be a savings for anyone needing an ambulance."

Voters in the fire protection district — which includes Bismarck, Henning, Alvin and the Lake Boulevard neighborhood north of Danville — will vote on whether to financially support the new ambulance service in Tuesday's primary.

A referendum asks whether the fire protection district should be allowed to levy a special tax not to exceed 30 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to provide the service.

However, officials aren't looking to levy the maximum allowable rate, said Eric Johnson, the emergency medical services coordinator for the fire district and ambulance service.

Currently, he said, the fire district levies a rate of about $33 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for fire protection. That means the owner of a $100,000 home pays roughly $30 a year for the service.

"We estimate (that owner) will pay an extra $10 to $15 a year" for ambulance service, Johnson said, adding it will be less for owners with lower property values.

Johnson said the revenue would be put toward start-up costs, estimated at $150,000 to $200,000. He added plans call for purchasing the Bismarck Community Ambulance's vehicle, which is about 16 years old.

"We wouldn't have to buy a brand-new vehicle right off the bat," he said. "But buying one in the near future would probably be a necessity."

The ambulance service averages about 150 to 200 calls a year, Merrell said. She said the fire protection district also responds to medical calls and sometimes, gets to an incident sooner because there are more volunteers to respond.

"If we can put the ambulance under the fire department, we can respond faster, provide a high level of care and transport quicker, and that will benefit all residents," Johnson said.

While all districts residents will pitch in, he and Merrell said it will be a significant savings for users. The fee is $350 or higher depending on services rendered.

"If you consider an average bill for an ambulance is $700, and you're going to pay less than $30 a year for that service, you're saving roughly $670," said Johnson, who is also a paramedic for Medix Ambulance in Danville.

Some residents were unaware of the referendum. Others said they were still undecided.

"But I'm all for faster service," said Waneta Hall, who lives on Shake Rag Road.

"If it's going to reduce the cost, then I'll consider supporting it," said Diana Pundt of Bismarck. "You just never know if you're going to need one."

Dan White, of the Bismarck area, said he doesn't like the idea of paying another tax. "I'm still undecided, but I would tend to vote against it," he said. "I'm just about ready to sign up for Medicare, so I'd be paying $30 a year for everyone else. I'm on a fixed income. I'll really have to crunch the numbers."

Merrell said anyone who wants more information or has any questions can call her at 474-0047.

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