To generate funding for emergency medical services in Dale County was the reason that citizens voted in favor of a $5 tag tax in 2018.
Nearly one year later there is still no EMS in the south end of the county and what to do about that was discussed by the Dale County Commission at the meeting July 23.
“It’s not fair to the people who are paying the (tag tax) money,” Dale County Commission Chairman Mark Blankenship said. “We made a commitment that we were going to step up and here we are nine or 10 months after the vote and we’re still in the same boat.”
Although “emergency medical services” was not in the verbiage, approval of Act 239 in November 2018 allowed a $5 tag transaction fee earmarked to fund emergency medical services in Dale County.
Three percent of the proceeds from the $5 fee for each motor vehicle collected is retained by the Dale County Revenue Commissioner’s office to cover administrative costs and the remainder given to the Dale County Commission to be distributed quarterly to municipalities and emergency medical service organizations for EMS services.
Blankenship said that the funds generated this quarter have increased from $58,000 for the first disbursement to $65,000 this quarter.
Blankenship said that he has received only three grant applications from municipalities requesting EMS funds and questioned why none had been received from municipalities at the south end of the county last quarter or this. “We are still holding the money that we allocated for the south end of the county,” he said.
“I have great concerns that we, as a commission, are not doing what we committed to do in providing funding for EMS services,” Blankenship said. “The reason I say that is out of 128 (ambulance) runs that the Echo Volunteer Fire Department made in this last quarter, 51 were for Midland City and Pinckard.”
Dale County Commissioner Charles “Chic” Gary said that he was aware that Newton and Pinckard were moving forward with development of emergency medical services. “I would give it just a little bit more time,” Gary told the commissioners. “I would have to support the efforts that they are trying to make.”
He has not heard any report from Napier Field, Grimes or Midland City, Gary said.
“I think this commission needs to step up to put an ambulance service down there,” Blankenship said. “It’s just not fair to the people who live down there or the people travelling through to not have an ambulance available to them.
“Everybody that is going to be a team player in that project needs to be on the same page,” said Dale County Emergency Management Agency Director Kurt McDaniel. “And that’s not happening.”
Blankenship agreed. “It’s sad when you see that Midland City is calling Echo (Volunteer Fire Department) and their ambulance is just across the street.”
“The way the law is written it allows us to do what we need to do put service there,” he added.
“If we have to move the (tag tax) funds to another entity, I want to make sure that entity will cover that end of the county because if they don’t we are just back to square one,” Gary said. “Good intentions are just great but…”.
“All I know is that eight years ago we put Ozark (rescue service) down there (at the south end of the county) and it worked,” Blankenship said. “Here we are eight years later in the same situation except we are taxing folks for a service they are not getting.”
Blankenship said the history behind the idea for the tag tax to benefit EMS began while he was serving on the Ozark City Council. At that time the city of Ozark used an ambulance service that also covered Troy.
In initial discussions about the tag tax in 2017, Blankenship noted that the Ozark EMS was the only paid EMS provider and there were five volunteer EMS services in the county. “One of our many goals will be to use this money to put more paid staff in the volunteer EMS units in the county,” he said at that time.
The next meeting of the Dale County Commission is Aug. 13 at the Dale County Government Building in Ozark. A work session begins at 10 a.m. and is followed by a voting meeting. Both meetings are open to the public.