Thursday, July 1, 2004

Independence gets life squads

Fire District board votes to double taxes for paramedics

By Cindy Schroeder
Enquirer staff writer

INDEPENDENCE - Fire officials plan to offer full-time paramedic service starting early next year.

The Independence Fire District Board unanimously voted Wednesdayto essentially double taxes on homes and personal property to pay for the life-saving service. The district is independent of city government.

The fire district will use part of the tax proceeds to hire a medical director and hire, train and equip at least six paramedics, or two per shift, Chief Rick Messingschlager said after the meeting.

The paramedics would operate from ambulances based at Station 1 at Independence Town Center and Station 3 on Richardson Road after the living quarters are remodeled.

At a June 16 hearing, 15 of 16 speakers said they would support a tax increase only if it provided paramedic service, said Jim Kudera, chairman of the Independence Fire District Board.

Paramedics receive more training than emergency medical technicians and can administer drugs and provide other vital services.

"With proper administration, this district will be the premiere provider of (advanced life support) service,'' Kudera said. "... I applaud this board for their decisions and their integrity and their courage.''

While the board's action may not be popular with some taxpayers, "long term, it will be the proper thing to do.'' Kudera said.

The fire district also will phase in full-time staff during the next two years at Station 3 on Richardson Road and Station 2 on Cox Road with proceeds from the property tax increase, Messingschlager said. Station 2 also would be rebuilt.

Independence City Council members Tom Brinker and Mary Pat Behler were among those attending Wednesday's special fire board meeting.

Both said they would have liked more information.

They wanted to know about the number of paramedic runs in the city in recent years and a breakdown of the costs for advanced life support service and other fire district improvements that would be financed with the tax increase.

In recent years, the nonprofit TransCare of Kentucky Inc. has responded to all life-threatening calls in Kenton County, relying on subscription drives and insurance payments for funding. However, TransCare recently said it was losing money and sought payments from Kenton County governments to continue the service.

Last week, representatives of 18 Kenton County cities and the county approved a contract with TransCare that calls for them to pay TransCare about $450,000 to continue paramedic service throughout the county during the fiscal year that starts today.

That stop-gap solution covers all but Covington, which is starting its own paramedic service Sept. 1. Erlanger also has announced plans to start paramedic service early next year, and Elsmere and Edgewood have expressed interest in contracting with that system.

When it became apparent that a countywide advanced life support service with long-term funding wouldn't happen, Messingschlager said the Independence Fire District saw no other choice but to use tax revenues to fund its own paramedic service.

The new tax rate will be reflected on property tax bills going out this fall. The tax bill for the owner of a $100,000 home would go from $99 a year to $195 a year. On a $25,000 vehicle, it would double from $25 to $50.


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