Tax bills are out and Union Area Ambulance District Administrator Ken Koch said residents might notice the amount paid for ambulance services is lower this year.

That’s because the district voted to voluntarily roll back the real estate and personal property tax levy a year ahead of schedule.

According to the state auditor’s calculations, the district could have set the levy at a maximum of 17.84 cents per $100 in assessed valuation, but rolled it back 13.2 cents for a total levy of 4.64 cents per $100 in assessed valuation.

The district was allowed to collect both the 18 cents real estate and personal property taxes and sales tax for one year, on the 2016 tax bills.

In April 2016, voters passed a one-half-cent sales tax to help meet the growing financial needs of the district. The initiative, dubbed “Fair Ambulance Funding,” required that the district to roll back real estate and personal property taxes by 50 percent of the sales tax collected.

When the budget was set this past August, the district didn’t have a full year of sales tax collection, but voluntarily reduced the amount anyway because voters were told it would be reduced, Koch said.

When the sales tax passed, Union was the only ambulance district in Franklin County that did not collect a sales tax.

Every other ambulance district in the county collects both a sales tax and real estate and personal property taxes with the exception of the Washington District which collects a three-eighths-cent sales tax.

“The advantage of the sales tax is that not only property owners are paying for the service everybody is using, but everybody pays for it,” he said.

The district anticipated receiving $1 million in sales tax revenue in 2017 and is on track to receive that amount, Koch said.

Through October, $890,211 was collected in sales tax.

Use of Funds

This year, the department aimed to upgrade equipment.

Two trucks were remounted with new chassis and were refurbished, which saves $50,000 to $60,000 over the cost of purchasing a new truck.

Two new EKG monitors were purchased. The district had three but had five trucks. Two had old equipment that was used when those trucks had to be used.

Koch said increasing personnel salaries was another goal in 2017.

“Our personnel salaries were considerably — 20 percent or so — behind other ambulance services here in Franklin County that are our size,” Koch said.

Full-time and part-time salaries were adjusted.

Koch said he also wanted to fill a third crew with full-time staff. One full-time person was added per platoon. Those people were budgeted as part time before, so the difference was only about $20,000 to $30,000 for all three staff members.

Starting Jan. 1, a third crew will be at the station. Currently there is one crew at each ambulance house.

Having three crews available helps during busy times and with providing mutual aid to surrounding districts.

In 2018, Koch said the district will focus on crew member health and safety issues.

“Ambulance personnel really suffer shoulder, back and knee injuries,” Koch said. “It’s good for the individual... and it’s good for the district that we don’t have people out on workers compensation. It’s a win-win situation.”

The district will look at patient handling systems such as a device to help load the stretcher into ambulance vehicles, as well as physical fitness equipment to work on core training. The district has 17 full-time staff and 23 part-time staff.