Dane County emergency responders are reacting to a newly introduced state bill that would let municipalities in a joint EMS district exceed levy limits to fund their annual EMS budgets.
The bill, introduced Sept. 24 in the State Assembly, had its first hearing Sept. 26 before the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee.
At a meeting Sept. 25 in Cambridge, members of Dane County’s EMS Commission said they’re hopeful that the bill, AB 472, will advance.
The proposed law change would allow municipalities that are part of a joint EMS district like Cambridge EMS and Deer-Grove EMS, whose jurisdiction spans more than one municipality under an intergovernmental agreement, to exclude from their state levy limit calculation operational costs for EMS.
It’s the same flexibility given to joint fire departments and joint fire/EMS districts in a 2006 state law change.
Joint fire and EMS districts don’t have their own taxing authority; their budgets must be annually approved by each involved municipality. Each municpality levies a portion of the budget based on their equalized value.
Under the bill, there are limitations. A municipality could only exclude from its levy limit calculation EMS costs that would otherwise cause it to exceed its overall levy limit. It could also only exclude costs up to the previous year’s change in the consumer price index, plus 2 percent.
“If this goes through it’ll be a huge change,” Cambridge EMS Director Bob Salov said at the Sept. 25 Dane County EMS Commission meeting.
Dane County EMS Commission member Adam Plotkin said the bill “provides a critical opportunity to fund critical services like emergency medicine, which also frees up room for municipalities that have been operating in a tight budget environment for a while to fund other things like roads or municipal services.”
Salov said the bill offers needed financial flexibility to EMS Departments who are working toward “being able to provide quicker response times, higher levels of staffing and the latest technology.”
“This bill will allow the municipalities to make their local decisions on whether they want to invest and can invest in emergency medical services,” Salov said. “The public is demanding that this essential service be delivered to them quickly, efficiently and with a high level of professionalism. That’s what all the services want to provide but they’ve been hamstrung by limited access to the funding. This bill will allow the municipalities given their local politics, given their local stature with the public, to increase the levy based on the need and the request of the public to provide the service.”
State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, a co-author of the bill, testified before the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on Sept. 26. Loudenbeck’s Assembly district includes the North Shore Fire Department, formed in 1995 out of seven municipal fire departments.
“Fire and Emergency medical services in Wisconsin have evolved significantly over the past several decades. Call volumes for fires are down. Call volumes for emergency services are up. The number of volunteers serving their communities is down. Training requirements are up. Communities have adapted to these changes, but significant challenges remain. The ability for all of our local communities to find and fund adequate staff are only part of the challenge. Local budgets must also provide adequate resources for apparatus, tools, gear, training, fuel and other items needed to remain operational,” Loudenbeck told the Assembly committee.
North Shore Fire Department Chief Robert Whitaker said in Sept. 25 Assembly committee testimony that the bill allows municipalities in a joint EMS district, who all have different levy limits based on the recent net amount of new construction in their community, to tax at the same level.
The seven municipalities served by the North Shore Fire Department “each have a different levy limit they must comply with annually. Finding a single budget that meets each of those seven levy limits is nearly impossible,” Whitaker testified. “The only way to do this is to limit the overall agency levy impact increase by the lowest levy of the seven communities we serve.”
“While a member community may have experienced growth in previous years and need additional services, another member community may have had a stagnant growth factor, which limits their levy increase to something very small.”
Whitaker also said adjoining municipalities that cooperate to create a joint EMS department often find themselves hobbled within a year by the levy limits that restrict their operational spending.
In an email, Loudenbeck wrote that the bill is “about allowing communities to work together to achieve better outcomes at a better value and to develop a long-term plan to best utilize shared resources to meet community needs.”
It also gives local EMS departments who aren’t interested in also forming a joint fire department another option, Loudenbeck further told the Assembly committee.