Thursday, April 1, 2004

Paramedic coverage costly

Independence, some other cities can't afford it

By William Croyle
Enquirer contributor

If you have a heart attack in Independence after July 1 - whether you live there, work there or are just passing through - paramedics will not respond to help. That's because neither the city nor its fire district can afford to pay $68,585 for the service during the next fiscal year.

And Larry Klein, chairman of Kenton County's advanced life support committee, said Independence probably won't be the only Kenton County city that can't afford its share.

"I understand their situation. It's a lot of money," said Klein. "And I expect a couple more cities will do the same."

The county is negotiating a contract with TransCare, a nonprofit company owned by St. Luke and St. Elizabeth hospitals that responds to all of the county's life-threatening calls - known as advanced life support.

Unlike emergency medical technicians, TransCare paramedics can administer drugs at the scene.

But the company has been losing money over the years. It relies on subscriptions for its service and receives no tax dollars. Now, 18 cities are trying to find ways to pay for 75 percent of the annual Trans-Care cost of $593,150. The county has agreed to pay the other 25 percent.

Covington is the only city not needing the service, since it will begin its own paramedic service Sept. 1.

The amount each city would pay is based on population and averages out to about $4.58 per person. With a population of 14,982, Independence would have to pay more than all other cities except Erlanger.

The Independence Fire District is separate from the city, setting its own taxes and budget. Chief Rick Messingschlager said the fire district simply does not have the funds.

"It could present problems," said Messingschlager. "The good thing is EMT skills are going up all the time - but they're not paramedics."

Independence Mayor Chris Moriconi said that when Covington backed out, his city's proposed share of the cost for TransCare doubled. And because the city is separate from the fire district, it's a service that has never been paid for out of the city budget, and one it cannot afford.

Klein said the long-term solution proposed is for Kenton County Fiscal Court to put a property tax of 2 cents per $100 of valuation on the November ballot. The Kenton County Mayors Group voted 12-0 this month to recommend that plan to the court.

That would mean an extra $20 a year on a $100,000 home.

If it passes, the tax would take effect Jan. 1, but wouldn't be collected until the end of the year. That's why the cities are trying to enter into a contract with TransCare now to fill the void.

And if it doesn't pass?

"Then the question becomes 'Is this a service we want to provide if the voters said no to it?' " said Klein. "Some cities might do it, but others would probably say they can't afford it."

Klein said Ludlow is the only city so far to agree to pay its share, $20,184. He said the other city councils will be discussing the issue this month and next.


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