SMCAS to ask voters for fee increase

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT SMCAS employees Bruce Coryell, Charles Knauft, Dennis Closson, Frank De La Torre, Kelly Vaercwyck and Daniel Linn stand beside an ambulance truck Monday morning at the station on Chicago Road in Niles.

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT
SMCAS employees Bruce Coryell, Charles Knauft, Dennis Closson, Frank De La Torre, Kelly Vaercwyck and Daniel Linn stand beside an ambulance truck Monday morning at the station on Chicago Road in Niles.

Many southwestern Michigan residents could be paying more for ambulance service in the near future.

Brian Scribner, director of Southwestern Michigan Community Ambulance Service, said the non-profit, municipality owned ambulance service would be asking residents to approve an up to $15 per parcel special assessment increase during the August election.

Residents within the SMCAS district already pay $20 a year in the form of a per parcel assessment for ambulance services. That figure is also up for renewal in August and has been in effect for the past eight years.

Scribner said the intention is to put two items on the ballot: one for the renewal of $20 and one for the $15 increase.

If both were approved, residents would be paying up to $35 each year for SMCAS ambulance service.

Scribner said the increase is needed in order to sustain the viability of the ambulance service over the next five to 10 years.

“In order to do that we have to have the correct funding and the correct equipment to make it sustainable,” he said. “This is really vital to that.”

SMCAS has not seen an increase in the per parcel assessment in approximately 10 years.

Scribner said all ambulance services, including theirs, are struggling financially due to several factors, including decreasing Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements, which pay out “pennies on the dollar.”

“We operate on razor thin budgets,” he said. “It is hard to keep up with operational costs that are increasing when our revenues coming through the door are not necessarily increasing.”

Since being hired as director in July of 2014, Scribner said he and the SMCAS board have worked hard to make SMCAS run as efficiently as possible on limited resources.

Even so, he said the ambulance service had a deficit of $84,000 last year when accounting for accumulated depreciation of assets.

The ambulance service is projected to run a deficit of $121,000 this year.

However, Scribner said a $15 per parcel increase would put SMCAS approximately $184,000 in the positive column this year.

That extra money, he said, would allow SMCAS to build up its cash reserve fund, purchase needed new ambulances and make improvements to the building and technology.

“Those things truly need to occur over the next year and we will need that money to accomplish that,” he said.

Scribner also assured residents that the money would be spent on improving the ambulance service, in light of allegations of embezzlement made against former SMCAS director Tim Gray.

“Our goal is to create a very accountable organization where all spending will be appropriate and go to the development of the ambulance service,” he said.

Scribner said the next step is to finalize the ballot language for the proposals, which would go before the governing board of each owner municipality for approval.

SMCAS owner municipalities are the City of Niles, Niles Township, City of Buchanan, Buchanan Township, Bertrand Township and Howard Township.

SMCAS ran approximately 6,700 ambulance calls last year, Scribner said, up about five percent from the previous year.

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