Fairfax ambulance bill still up in air

Robert Smith rsmith@pawhuskajournalcapital.com

After extensive discussion Monday, Osage County commissioners tabled a decision about whether to pay up to $5,500 a month to keep ambulance service in the town of Fairfax and surrounding areas.

With a March 1 deadline looming for Fairfax municipal officials to either sign a contract with Miller EMS or lose service, the county commissioners planned to meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday of this week to make a decision. Miller is the current EMS provider for Fairfax and was the low bidder, at $13,000 per month, in a recent round of bidding. That figure is a sharp increase over the previous monthly cost of $7,500.

The county has a state legal mandate to make sure its residents have ambulance service, so it can’t walk away from the situation. Jim Koch, director of Business Development for Miller, said the company provides ambulance service from Fairfax north almost to Shidler, from Fairfax into Ralston, and from Fairfax into “the bend” area.

Based on advice from District Attorney Mike Fisher, a key element of what the Osage County commissioners decided to take up Thursday is just how much of the $5,500 per month they’ve been approached about paying can legally be approved for payment. It appeared the decision would be based on service area data.

Fisher cautioned the commissioners they might not be legally able to provide the full amount, but no one immediately took up the question of what would happen between Fairfax and Miller if Osage County were to approve paying something less that $5,500 per month.

During the discussion Monday, April Thompson, director of Hominy EMS, questioned why the county would agree to pay $5,500 on behalf of Fairfax if the town wasn’t willing to levy a charge to its residents to cover some of the cost. Thompson is one of the members of a new EMS Advisory Board the county commissioners have created to give them advice about EMS issues.

“I don’t see why that hasn’t been explored,” Thompson said.

Larry Eulert, city manager for Pawhuska and also a member of the new EMS Advisory Board, said a three-percent increase in ad valorem taxation would take care of the whole county.

Carol Conner, of the Fairfax Chief newspaper, took issue with Thompson’s characterization of Fairfax being unwilling to levy a charge to its residents.

“I don’t know what you heard, but that’s not what was said,” Conner said.

Charlie Cartwright, a Fairfax town trustee, said the town government has looked, without success, at the possibility of raising revenue to address the EMS cost increase.

“The town is incurring some very large legal expenses that we have to pay,” Cartwright said, referring to keeping local healthcare infrastructure in place. The town is currently involved in litigation against the company that runs Fairfax Community Hospital.

“We cannot pay that increase,” Cartwright said, adding the town is “fiercely independent” and hates to ask the county for help. “It’s just not there.”

Thompson argued that a county subsidy for EMS service in the Fairfax area is not a real long-term fix to the problem.

“It’s not a fix; it’s a crutch,” she said.