SIOUX CITY | Two new paramedics will be added in Woodbury County after July 1, as a plan to pay for the new personnel without raising property taxes was adopted Tuesday by the county board of supervisors.
After Siouxland Paramedics ended its 911 service on Dec. 31, county officials worried there would not be enough paramedics to treat patients in rural areas of the county. The plan approved Tuesday will increase from one to three the number of paramedics in the county's Emergency Services Department.
"This is an issue that really matters to the health and care of the people in the county," Emergency Services Department Director Gary Brown said.
Supervisor Jeremy Taylor, who pitched the plan, termed it a "win-win-win-win." It funds the paramedic positions in the next fiscal year by cutting jobs in three other county departments.
Taylor said the plans, approved by a 5-0 vote, represents wins to taxpayers because the county tax levy won't be increased, existing volunteer emergency responders who will have access to professional paramedics, patients who use ambulance services and for Brown and his department, who for years has been trying to win approval for more paramedics.
"We will be about 95 to 98 percent fully staffed (on covering all hours of the week)," Brown told the Journal. "This is the right thing to do. It has taken a while to get here, but the board has seen the need. It has always been about how to afford it."
Taylor said the plan would hire two paramedics at a cost of $146,267, which includes salary and benefits. The proposed cuts in three other departments -- Human Resources, Building Services and Juvenile Detention Center -- will be enough to offset those costs, Taylor said.
The moves include Human Resources cutting one position for a savings of $77,000, Building Services combining two positions into one for a savings of $39,000 and two upcoming personnel changes in Juvenile Detention that could save at least $125,000.
Taylor noted the savings are not a one-time cut, but ongoing.
"We are doing what any responsible family budget does in winnowing down some expenses to repurpose for another," Taylor wrote in meeting memo.
While the supervisors passed a vote in support of the paramedics plan, it won't become official until the county board votes to pass the FY 2019 budget for county departments in March. Any approved spending for paramedics would come July 1 at the soonest.
Under a proposal discussed last week, the county would have designated a tax levy of 19 cents per $1,000 of property valuation in its general basic fund to generate the funding source for 3¾ paramedic positions and associated medical supplies. But Taylor and Board Chairman Rocky De Witt wanted to avoid the tax increase. So, instead, they advanced the plan that passed Tuesday.
Three other plans proposed by County Finance Director Dennis Butler and others failed to gain traction in January. All the recent discussions have been held to find a way to address the gap in county paramedic care, after Siouxland Paramedics stopped responding to 911 calls.
Woodbury County's Emergency Services Division, based in Climbing Hill, currently staffs one paramedic from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and every other Friday. Until Jan. 1, the county had used paramedics from Siouxland Paramedics to assist with calls outside those hours in which advanced life support services were needed.
Sergeant Bluf Mayor Jon Winkel said he had met with county mayors in November to try to get paramedic coverage in a very uncertain time.
"We were all kind of freaking out, didn't know where this would end up," Winkel said.
Several existing rural volunteer ambulance and emergency workers last week said there is a need for more paramedics than are now available in the county Emergency Services Department. Brown said Tuesday he will move with the hiring process over spring months, so two paramedics are ready to start when the money arrives July 1 with the new fiscal year.
Sergeant Bluff is the second-largest city in the county and has its own paramedics. Winkel said he likes the new plan, and added that Sergeant Bluff will help out in the spirit of cooperation when the need arises prior to July 1.