Council ends talk of fire department ambulanceA proposal for a city-run ambulance service is dead. Superior’s City Council on Tuesday received and filed a 126-page report from the Ambulance Task Force, ending debate and discussion of providing emergency medical transport through the Superior Fire Department.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
A proposal for a city-run ambulance service is dead.
Superior’s City Council on Tuesday received and filed a 126-page report from the Ambulance Task Force, ending debate and discussion of providing emergency medical transport through the Superior Fire Department.
Created in December, the seven-member panel was appointed to determine if an ambulance service run by the Superior Fire Department was a viable option for the city. The majority of members concluded the service was not viable because of the potential cost for taxpayers.
That was the conclusion drawn by five of seven members of the Ambulance Task Force after a three-month review of the fire department’s proposal and service already provided by Gold Cross Ambulance.
Councilor Warren Bender, chairman of the task force, said while he determined the proposal for a city-run service was “feasible,” as chairman of the committee he would support the findings of the majority of the panel members.
“The financial times are not such that we could do anything like this,” he said. Bender said he didn’t believe anyone would be willing to pay for a new service if it proved less than profitable, a possibility he acknowledged Monday after further consultation with the Wisconsin Office of Emergency Medical Services.
Task force members Dr. Robert Sellers, Finance Director Jean Vito, Douglas County Board supervisors Jack Sweeney and Kay Johnson, and Brad Keseluk, an employee of Gold Cross Ambulance concluded the potential burden for taxpayers made the proposal undesirable for Superior.
Currently, taxpayers don’t have any liability for the service provided by Gold Cross Ambulance, which took over the service when Douglas County eliminated its ambulance service in 1996 because the government-run service was a burden on taxpayers. During the last five years of operation, the Douglas County Ambulance Service cost taxpayers almost $2.8 million.
Vito projected similar deficits for the first five years of operation of a service run by the Superior Fire Department. With an average annual deficit of $542,750, the cumulative shortfall would exceed $2.7 million in five years.
Mayor Dave Ross said changes in state law, which require the city to maintain funding levels for public safety – police and fire – could put other city services at jeopardy to make up deficits. The city would have to turn to departments such as public works to fill the gap, reducing the level of service for street repairs, plowing, and garbage and recycling services.
“We, as city leaders, our job is to respond to concerns and needs that the community raises,” Ross said. “A lot of times, we get phone calls that make us aware of a number of things that we need to take action about. I can talk about the nuisance abatement ordinance … the public was demanding that we take action. This is the first time a major issue came up directly as a result of a special interest and not as a result of a public outcry because of the performance of Gold Cross.”
Ross said he has not received complaints about the service Gold Cross has provided in Superior over the last seven years, but every fire chief who served under him – Stephen Gotelaere, Tad Matheson and Jim Rigstad – has brought the issue of an ambulance service to his attention.
Rigstad said with Duluth looking at the proposition to change emergency transport to the city’s fire department, his concern was the Superior Fire Department be prepared in the event Gold Cross pulled out of the Twin Ports, depending on the actions of Duluth’s decisions.
“In some instances I felt that we spent more time asking Gold Cross to defend themselves rather than hearing from our fire department how they would provide a higher level service at a lower cost,” Vito said during her presentation to the task force last week.
While Bender had considered asking the council to put the issue to a nonbinding referendum, he said he has since reconsidered that thought because of the amount of time it took the committee to learn about the issue.
“It took us seven meetings to be somewhat educated about it,” Bender said. “How many articles in the newspaper would it take to educate the public?”