County elected officials have canceled tonight’s public hearing on the establishment of a new income tax to fund EMS service, instead pushing it to the end of the month, just three business days before the deadline to pass the legislation to ensure revenue begins flowing in in 2022.
The county council originally advertised for the new Local Income Tax and a public hearing last week but was just shy of the 10-day notice required by state law.
So, they’ve canceled the public hearing — as well as their regular meeting — originally scheduled for 5 p.m. tonight.
Instead, the meeting and public hearing will be held at 5 p.m. on Oct. 26.
In order to approve the new tax before the deadline of Oct. 31, the county council would need to either meet on consecutive nights to allow for the necessary three readings across two separate meetings or vote to suspend the rules and do all three readings in one night.
The city council, too, would have to take all three of those same steps — a public hearing as well as first, second and third readings — before the end of that week.
County commissioner Kellie Streeter, who has been leading these talks in recent weeks, says the two governing bodies will need to decide how quickly they want to act.
“That will be up to the county and city councils,” she said. “Either way, we’re going to have to fund EMS service in the coming year.”
Talks of a possible income tax began earlier this month during a joint meeting of the county council, county commissioners and city council.
Representatives with Reedy Financial Group, Seymour, laid out a path forward in establishing a LIT, offering a trio of possibilities that could bring in anywhere from $861,000 up to $3.4 million — money that would be distributed appropriately between the county’s taxing districts specifically for public safety costs — per year.
The county’s current — and sole — emergency service provider is Knox County EMS, a long-time ambulance service and medical transport company owned by Steve and Christa McClure.
For more than 20 years, they’ve answered the county’s 911 calls at no charge to the county, relying solely on medical reimbursements as revenue.
But with those reimbursements not what they once were — Medicare reimbursements, for instance, haven’t increased in decades, officials say — Knox County EMS is at risk of going out of business altogether.
They originally told the commissioners — who, by state statute, are charged with providing emergency service — that they need a subsidy of $300,000 per year if they’re to cry on, but that deal, Streeter said, is officially off the table.
Steve and Christa McClure, Streeter said, have issued the county a 60-day notice, indicating they will terminate their current contract with the county before the end of the year.
The McClure’s desire, Streeter said, is that the county transition into a contract with Good Samaritan for EMS service, a possibility that has been discussed publicly.
It’s their “anticipation that their current staff would be retained and transitioned to Good Samaritan,” Streeter said.
“Their wish is to retire Knox County EMS and to look at a transition to Good Samaritan,” she continued.
But that decision, ultimately, is up to the county commissioners.
They can either look to another provider and offer an annual subsidy or the establish a totally new service — perhaps a partnership with Good Samaritan.
Both are the norm in Indiana as Knox is, reportedly, the only county in Indiana that doesn’t either pay for its own EMS service or offer a subsidy to a provider.
But the big point of contention between members of the county council and city councils — both have to approve the LIT for it to be possible — seems to be which should come first: the contract or the revenue source.
Members of the county council, according to recent public discussions, seem to want to approve the LIT then look at what kind of service is best to provide, while city council leaders wanted to first figure out exactly what kind of service the county wants to entertain, determine how much it will cost, then establish a tax rate to pay for it.
City council members, too, have been hesitant to approve a tax on such a tight timeline.
Streeter, however, says time is of the essence; in just two months, the county may find itself without EMS service at all.
Officials have warned of deteriorating response times as Knox County EMS struggles to find paramedics; that fear was enhanced over the weekend as locals took to social media to air their grievances.
One particular post even indicated that, at least for awhile, there were no available ambulances in Knox County at all.
Streeter, however, said the situation hasn’t necessarily deteriorated in recent days. It’s merely that the recent talk of a LIT to fund a new system has shined a spotlight on an existing problem.
“It’s just more in the public eye,” she said. “We had a series of 911 calls over the weekend that amplified the lack of coverage. But it wasn’t a constant issue, and we don’t believe we have to flip the switch because we’re in an emergency situation.
“But we do need to find a way to transition over the next six months.”
The money generated by the LIT, too, could be spent on a variety of public safety-related costs, like bolstering fire and police departments or the county sheriff’s department, probation or even related capital improvements, among other needs.
It can also go to lessen the burden on their respective General Funds, allowing monies allocated now for public safety to be spent elsewhere.