July 30, 2013

Blue Springs leaders backing ballot measure to shift ambulance services license

Measure also would increase the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District’s property tax levy by 15 cents per $100 assessed valuation.

Blue Springs officials and organizations are supporting an August ballot measure that would transfer the state license for ambulance services from Blue Springs to the city’s longtime contract provider.

That agency, the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District, has provided ambulance services to the Blue Springs area for 21 years.

Voters on Aug. 6 will consider approval of a ballot measure that would authorize that transfer, as well as a 15-cent increase per $100 assessed valuation in the district’s property tax levy, phased in over three years.

If voters say yes, the city will phase out its subsidy of the agency over the same three years.

“This transfer gives us the flexibility to operate the system to the best of our ability,” said Steven Westermann, district chief. “I think we have proved over the last 21 years that we can do that.”

The ballot measure requires a simple majority.

Earlier this month, during a presentation to the Blue Springs City Council, Westermann described the agency as one of the best emergency medical services providers in the Kansas City area.

From 2006, response times have been cut by more than two minutes to an average of 7 minutes, 45 seconds, he said.

Also, 50 percent of its clients who have suffered cardiac arrests have been able to walk out of hospitals following emergency services from the district, he said. The national average, he added, is 6 percent.

Blue Springs Mayor Carson Ross said the transfer makes business sense. The fire disltrict not only serves most of Blue Springs but also Grain Valley and Lake Tapawingo

“They have done a great job,” he said of the district. “Let them continue to make it grow and make it even better.”

The board of directors of the Blue Springs Economic Development Corp. has voted to support the ballot measure.

“Public safety is very important to the quality of life in any community,” said Brien Starner, Blue Springs EDC president. “Both police and fire protection are at the top of the list for Blue Springs residents, and having high-quality emergency services is a key asset for keeping and recruiting companies.”

The Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Blue Springs Rotary also have endorsed the ballot measure.

The city’s subsidy of the district during 2012 was about $800,000. During the three-year transition period, the subsidy would be $725,000 in 2013, $500,000 in 2014 and $225,000 in 2015 before being eliminated the next year.

Earlier this month, City Council member Ron Fowler introduced a motion directing that — if voters agree to raise fire district levy by 15 cents over three years — property taxes for Blue Springs residents be reduced by a proportionate amount over that time.

The motion attracted no support from the mayor or other council members.

“I would love to see that happen,” Fowler told The Star. “I consider it a duplication in taxes. For the city to terminate a voter-approved service and then keep the taxes, I just don’t think that’s right. If the ambulance service raises its levy by 15 cents, the city should reduce its levy, so there would be no net increase to Blue Springs citizens.”

Fowler said he has no issues with the fire district’s emergency medical services.

“I believe they are providing a great service for our community,” he said.

Ross disagrees with Fowler’s levy-reduction idea.

“We are sitting on $146 million in unfunded capital improvements right now,” Ross said.

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