New idea presented for county ambulance future; Privatization contract changes to continue

The Fremont County Commission decided today that it will continue to move forward with "tweaks" the proposed ground ambulance privatization contract with Guardian Lifeflight and study a new proposal that came to light this morning. Fremont County Treasurer Scott Harnsberger presented a new idea to the commission after having met with mayors from across the county last week. The idea is this: when the current 1 percent tax is up for renewal in November, designate 10-15 percent of it to go not toward infrastructure as it was previously, but to subsidize the ambulance service. At 15 percent, that would mean about $1.2 million annually. This would require approval from all of the communities' councils. And since each community would be feeding the ambulance service financially, Harnsberger pitched that a joint powers board be formed to manage the ambulance department's budget, thereby making it no longer a county entity. Harnsberger said this would allow for an uninterrupted funding stream, where as it might take up to two years before the county saw the income from a property tax. Should voters decline the tax, then he said the county should privatize it completely. There was some question if legally the stated use of the tax could be changed upon renewal or if it had to remain the same. Some argued that the 1 percent tax was so difficult to pass in the first place that altering its use could result in it not passing. Eastern Shoshone Tribal Business Council Chairman Darwin St. Clair Jr., who was present with a quorum of his council, said he believed residents care more about ambulance services than improved roads. The ESTBC indicated a desire to be actively involved in the process of deciding the ambulance service's future. Also present at the meeting today were Riverton Mayor Lars Baker, Lander Mayor Del McOmie, Dubois Mayor Twila Blakeman, and Hudson Mayor Mike Anderson. Most of the commissioners agreed that they believe privatization is probably the best course of action given the county's current financial situation and the deficit that the service has operated under for the last couple years. However, several of them believed that after hearing public comment, there are pieces of the contract that need to be renegotiated. The only specific item mentioned out-loud needing to be reviewed was the inclusion of requiring air cards for all residents. Ultimately, Commission Chairman Doug Thompson directed Commissioners Larry Allen and Travis Becker to renegotiate pieces of the contract in the coming weeks while he looks into the viability of idea presented by Harnsberger. #county10 #news