Jun 21, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterThe director of Fremont County's ambulance department has proposed a smaller, revised budget for fiscal year 2014 that she says will resolve lingering financial issues.
The new plan asks for $3.3 million, down from the $4.1 million requested in May.
The figure is still more than 50 percent higher than the $2.1 million the department budgeted for 2013.
"I would not need a general fund transfer this year, and that still allows us about a $125,000 carry over to next year," director Lauri Wempen said in a Fremont County Commission meeting June 11, referring to issues with the earlier proposal. "That still addresses the federal mandates that are coming down about benefits, it addresses our staffing needs and it incorporates the part timers."
In May, Wempen said the federal Affordable Care Act would force her to offer health care benefits to nearly all of her part-time employees, in addition to the full-time workers. She also had been having trouble staffing all the shifts she needed to fill.
Her solution was to bring part-time employees to full time. The change drained the
department's $1.3 million cash reserve and required an $833,000 infusion from the county's general fund. The emergency medical service has remained self-sufficient by charging for services.
Wempen said she examined many scheduling options and found one that reduced overtime. Her first proposed budget for fiscal 2014 asked for overtime to increase to almost $700,000 from $109,000 the year before. The new plan for the upcoming year requests about $300,000 in over-time pay.
The commissioners said they liked the new proposal better than the previous one, but they still had questions.
"I do appreciate the reduction of the request this year," chairman Doug Thompson said.
Vice chairman Travis Becker said he was concerned about the sustainability of using up the department's cash reserve.
"Next year you could be looking at a general fund hit of a million dollars," he said.
Wempen agreed and said the department needs to find a new revenue source.
"We can look at a health care district, we can look at getting cities and towns to contribute, we can look at raising our rates, we can look at a partial sales tax as well," she said.
Becker was not convinced.
"It's busted the entire ambulance fund in just over a year," he said. "I think there's ways that can be looked at again. The volunteers really need to be looked at."
Commissioners had questioned before whether the ambulance department could find more people to volunteer to cover shifts rather than pay people to work more.
The commission will continue budget discussions throughout June and publish an overall budget proposal by the end of the month. Commissioners will have a public hearing on the budget July 8.
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