County may pull city’s EMS funds

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

Allen County Commissioner Gary McIntosh put a hefty price tag on ongoing verbal skirmishes between county and Iola commissioners Tuesday morning.
He noted the county “gave” Iola $80,000 last year to support its ambulance service. “I don’t think they should plan for that to be renewed,” McIntosh said. “I don’t want to contribute to someone who’s hurting our efforts.”
The “gift” McIntosh is referring to could be considered a refund of property taxes Iolans pay for the county’s ambulance service, and to which they now receive no direct benefit.
The exchanges have evolved over several months, after Allen County announced it would move ambulances from Iola’s fire station, ending a years-long arrangement. Iola countered by starting its own ambulance service. Since McIntosh and Rob Francis were elected county commissioners and took their seats in January, efforts have been made to resolve the disagreement and again have one ambulance service.
Prior to the split, the county paid Iola an annual $80,000 subsidy for the city’s role in the countywide service.
City Commissioner Craig Abbott said last week he was “reluctant to be receptive to a lot of things as long as our employees keep getting bombarded from across the street” and that “... Iola is not the one with the problem right now.”
Touché, said McIntosh with the financial broadside.
He surmised that Iola “had no intention to work together” and that “people are starting to understand where the problem lies.”
Francis said the idea of hiring a consultant to examine ambulance services, for $45,000, “was the city’s.” Iola commissioners said last week they likely would not be interested in participating financially in the study.
When contacted by the Register, three Iola officials — Mayor Bill Maness, Commissioner Bill Shirley and City Administrator Judy Brigham — all refuted the contention that the city proposed hiring the consultant.
“That is incorrect,” Maness said. “It was not the city’s idea.”
“From what I understand, the idea came from (Interim County EMS Director) Nathan Cunningham,” Brigham said.
“Last Tuesday was the first I’d heard of it,” Shirley said.
Brigham said she anticipated the city would continue to request funds from the county as long as Iolans are taxed for the county’s EMS services.
Dick Works, third county commissioner, noted that what now seemed to be evolving was an understanding that the county’s plan from last year to build an ambulance station in Gas was correct.
“Only now we don’t have the grant money,” he said.
Allen County attracted a Community Development Block Grant of $335,000, which it meant to use to build a comprehensive station in Gas. The grant was turned back to the state when it became apparent a July 1 deadline for start of construction wouldn’t be met.
Now, county commissioners intend to build a lesser station, 3,200 square feet with a price tag of about $200,000. They will hold a hearing next Tuesday on a design-built approach for the structure, which would have contractors propose turn-key programs.

THAT COULD change.
Commissioners met with Dan Onnen, Humboldt chief of police, Jared Warner, Iola chief, and Undersheriff Shannon Moore to discuss 911 service.
The outcome was some accord that a new 911 center should be identified before substantial money was spent to outfit the dispatch center in City Hall, too small in everyone’s opinion, with new equipment. Warner, six weeks into his job, agreed it was better not to install the sophisticated equipment and then have to move a short time later.
Where to locate a center, possibly with an emergency operations center attached, will be discussed June 3 when the 911 Advisory Committee, Dispatch Committee and chiefs of police meet.
While Iola’s City Hall seems unlikely to be the long-term site; Humboldt’s might be.
Humboldt City Hall will be moved to the Emprise Bank building, which will be replaced elsewhere in town, and the city has no immediate plans for a spacious basement, which would be safe from tornadoes and other dangers. Onnen said he did not know what arrangement Humboldt might offer, but a basement dispatch center would be secure with “the police department just above on the ground floor.”
“We’ve been at a stalemate on where to relocate 911,” Works said. “I think it’s time to get the ball rolling.”
Other sites mentioned were the old Rural Electrification building in Iola and LaHarpe Elementary School, which USD 257 board members voted to close last month. Going back to the county’s original plan, a larger building in Gas, also was mentioned.