CENTERVILLE — It appears Centerville got a better bang for its buck by creating a fire department-centered ambulance service instead of paying a subsidy to a private company.
Centerville City Administrator Jason Fraser said Monday the ambulance service the city launched in 2018 was about $200,000 in the red its first full fiscal year. The city, however, was able to cover the deficit without raising property taxes.
It’s also cheaper than the $250,000 yearly subsidy that Midwest Ambulance requested for them to continue providing 911 ambulance services in the county. Fraser said cities in Iowa that have paid subsidies to other private ambulance companies are seeing the subsidy grow between 4 percent and 17 percent each year.
Fraser said even though the city had to use some additional funds to cover the loss, the city was able to decrease its tax rate this year. Additionally, the funds to cover the roughly $200,000 shortfall doesn’t come from the city’s general fund, meaning it won’t lead to sacrifices to other city services, he said.
“I think we’ve been able to accomplish something pretty impressive there, by offering additional services to our citizens” without having to increase taxes, Fraser said.
The number of calls the Centerville Fire Rescue service was 13 percent higher than initial projections between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020. Fraser said the service responded to 1,418 calls. Of those, 936 were ultimately transported to the hospital.
The busiest month was December 2019, when the service answered 153 calls.
Expenses for the last fiscal year were $667,405.11, which doesn’t include the start-up costs of purchasing two ambulances and related equipment. If the costs of those items were averaged out over their expected lifespans, the capital expenditures would add $63,150.80 in expense.
Reimbursement for calls totaled $529,653.13.
Fraser said the city will be looking to enroll in the Ground Emergency Medical Transportation program, which would help fill in the gap caused by low reimbursement from Medicaid and Medicare. Individuals on Medicare and Medicaid made up about 55 percent of the total reimbursement received by the city.
Another potential way to offset the loss in the future could be picking up regular inter-facility transfers, which are typically reimbursed at higher rates by insurance. Doing this regularly though would require agreements with local hospitals, an additional ambulance and additional staff.
In other action:
• The Centerville City Council heard a tentative arrangement for a new agreement with Appanoose County relating to the proposed jail and law enforcement center. The agreement, if a new jail and law enforcement center is constructed, would make the city a tenant in the facility, paying a lease based on square footage used and also sharing utility expenses based on square footage. The council approved the basis of the agreement, though they’ll need to wait on negotiations with Appanoose County before they can formally approve it.
• The council voted to request a $129,409 reimbursement for costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic response. The reimbursement is being requested from the money diverted from the CARES Act program to local governments by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. The reimbursement is for expenses from March through the end of the year.
• Rules for the deer bow hunting season within city limits were approved. The season will be Oct. 1 through Dec. 4 and Dec. 21 through Jan. 10, 2021. The program helps the city safely reduce the deer population. Hunters must pass a shooting proficiency test once every three years to participate. Hunters must also comply with all Iowa DNR rules covering bow hunting of deer, and must obtain a permit through the city of Centerville.