Crow Wing County Board: Click it ... and reduce EMS funding?
The good news? Seat belt use is up dramatically in Minnesota, greatly reducing the number of unbelted traffic deaths. The surprising consequences? Funding for emergency medical services in the state, garnered from seat belt fines, is dropping pre...
The good news? Seat belt use is up dramatically in Minnesota, greatly reducing the number of unbelted traffic deaths.
The surprising consequences? Funding for emergency medical services in the state, garnered from seat belt fines, is dropping precisely because of the positive trend.
Marion Larson, regional coordinator for the Central Minnesota EMS Region, told the Crow Wing County Board at its committee of the whole meeting Tuesday increased seat belt usage has decreased dollars collected from fines, a major funding source for the eight EMS regions in the state.
Larson requested the county board pass a resolution of support as the EMS region seeks a more stable and sufficient funding source from the state Legislature.
"We are asking our lawmakers, we need them to be creative if they want our EMS system to be strong and be funded, and to keep EMS in mind when they're creating these fines to help out those they are impactful for," Larson said.
The EMS regions in the state support local fire departments, first responder groups, law enforcement agencies and ambulance services through training reimbursements, equipment grants, stress management services and recruitment and retention of responders. Operational costs for the regions are supported by state general fund dollars, while programs and equipment grants are funded by seat belt fines.
A fact sheet provided by Larson in 2014 showed the region helped defray the cost of training for 522 emergency responders from 55 different agencies.
The central region serves 12 counties, including Cass, Crow Wing, Wadena, Todd, Morrison and Mille Lacs. Larson said in Crow Wing County alone, there are 34 recognized first responder agencies, ranging from full-time paid professionals to squads that consist entirely of volunteers.
"We have a lot of rural areas that are hard to get to," Larson said. "We are really relying on our first responder volunteers to be able to make contact to start that preliminary care."
Larson said since 2010, when a change in statute made not wearing seat belts a primary offense for drivers, a peak in funding has declined dramatically as more Minnesotans buckle up. The region received $232,663 in seat belt funding in 2010. Last year, that funding level fell to $128,460, a difference of more than $100,000.
Larson suggested a possible solution to the funding shortfall might come from fines for distracted driving, a leading contributing factor in fatal crashes, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Another source could be a portion of fines collected from driving under the influence offenses.
"Those are all citations that, sooner or later, will need an EMS response," Larson said.
Chairman Paul Koering said as a former state legislator, he's leery of the county board signing resolutions of support because of the sheer number of groups who seek funding.
"There's an endless amount, a list of things we should fund," Koering said.
Commissioner Paul Thiede said his own legislative experience made him apprehensive for different reasons. If the county board supports a resolution based on where they expect funding to come from, there's a chance the bill could morph into something unrecognizable the board might no longer support.
"When we pass a resolution like this, saying we would like to take a portion of this to apply to that," Thiede said, "(then) five steps down the legislative process, we're suddenly taxing tea bags."
Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom said she believed supporting something like EMS had a more direct impact on Crow Wing County residents and was something she could get behind.
Koering said he recognized first responders and other emergency personnel were doing "the Lord's work," and his concerns were not derived from the content of the request so much as the potential for the watering down of the board's support if they begin to sign on to every resolution of support before them.
The resolution failed passage by the board at last week's meeting after Koering voted no, saying he wanted further information. The resolution will be included on the board's Nov. 24 agenda for reconsideration.
CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .