HOUSTON – On May 4 voters in the Houston Joint Ambulance District will be asked to consider passing an additional two mill property tax levy for the purpose of providing, maintaining and operating emergency medical services within the district.
The additional levy would cost the taxpayer 20 cents for each $100 of valuation over the next five years.
Citing the Houston squads’ inability to respond to numerous emergencies over the past few years based on staffing shortages, members of the Houston Joint Ambulance District board recently explained the need for additional levy funding to ensure EMS coverage within portions of Loramie and Washington townships, including the villages of Houston and Lockington.
Board President Kim Vondenhuevel said in years past, Houston Rescue Inc., primarily functioned with volunteers, as the run and tax-generating revenues prevented the employment of a regular part-time or full-time workforce.
“Fewer and fewer people have continued their involvement in Houston Rescue,” said Vondenhuevel, noting at the end of December 2020, two people remained as active members of the squad.
Because of the declining number of volunteer workers, other neighboring jurisdictions such as Fort Loramie and Sidney were forced to handle more than 40% of the total EMS calls Houston Rescue was initially dispatched to handle in 2020. In response, these neighboring jurisdictions terminated their mutual-aid contracts, leaving the Houston Joint Ambulance District Board of Trustees rushing to take immediate action.
In late December, members of this board entered into a one-year agreement with Spirit EMS to begin handling calls as of Jan. 1, 2021. Spirit EMS is covering the territory east of state Route 48 while the west side is covered by Versailles EMS.
When board members noted a declining number of volunteers at Houston Rescue to answer calls in the 50-plus square miles of territory the district covers, major changes occurred on Jan. 1, 2020. Versailles EMS began covering the west side of the district while the portions of Cynthian and Turtle Creek townships that had been covered by Houston Rescue were turned over to Fort Loramie EMS. Members of the board from Cynthian and Turtle Creek townships left the board after withdrawing their townships from the ambulance district.
“Since the first of the year, Spirit EMS has ensured staffing around the clock and has drastically improved the response times to EMS calls within the district,” said Chad Delaet, board member and Loramie Township trustee. “Both Spirit and Versailles EMS have been great groups to work with and have answered our call for help.”
Most recently, Spirit EMS formed a management group to oversee Houston Rescue Inc., so the ambulances may again begin responding from the squad house on Russia-Houston Road. Prior to that, they had been responding from the Spirit station located at the Fair Haven Shelby County Home on Fair Road.
Currently the Houston Joint Ambulance District has a levy that generates approximately $87,000 per year and is shared between the two contracted EMS agencies and routine administrative costs used to maintain the boards operations.
“Getting people to volunteer anymore and then try to keep up with all the requirements and continuing education is a thing of the past,” board member and former Houston squad member James Argabright said. “The current revenue is insufficient to financially sustain the minimum required two certified EMTs on each staffed ambulance as required by Ohio law. Back in the days when I started running, things were much different.”
Vondenhuevel, Delaet and Argabright said they have been fielding a lot of questions from the public. For example, someone owning a property valued at $100K would pay an additional $200 per year in taxes if the levy were to pass. The first collection of these funds would be in 2022.
“You have to look at the levy as insurance,” Delaet said. “The passage of the levy ensures we will have funds to have EMS coverage in our entire community. Anyone can do the math and see an around-the-clock operation where lives are at stake can’t be maintained on less than $10 per hour to pay at least two certified people to be available and cover overhead. The math just doesn’t work.”
So, what happens if voters turn down the May 4 EMS levy?
“Without additional funding, the Houston Joint Ambulance District board has said we will most likely be left without EMS protection in the vast majority of the district come Jan. 1, 2022,” Vondenhuevel said. “It’s scary. The need is real, and I’m just hoping people can see and understand that.”
Despite the challenges they’ve faced, board members shared the community has shown a great deal of support toward advocating for the levy.
In April, a group of individuals formed a committee known as Friends of Houston Rescue.
This group sent out an informational letter to all registered voters in the district, has placed numerous yard signs, has created its own Facebook page and is planning an informational community picnic to be held from 1-5 p.m. May 2 at the Houston Rescue Squad house, located at 5125 Russia-Houston Road, Houston.
At this picnic, a complimentary meal will be served, free blood pressure checks will be offered, tours of the squad house and ambulances will be given and officials will be on hand to answer any questions community members might have. The event will be family friendly, and kids of all ages are welcomed.
For those unable to attend the picnic and having questions in the meantime, Vondenhuevel, Delaet and Argabright have said they are only a phone call away. Delaet can be reached at 937-638-1764.
Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on May 4. Early voting and absentee voting is currently underway in the county.