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Voters to Decide Fate of Ambulance Tax Tuesday

County leaders say passage of 1/4 cent sales tax hike would guarantee EMS services would continue as-is when Heartland discontinues ambulance care next July.
(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.)  Many say the ambulance tax vote Tuesday will come down to a matter of choice. Vote "yes" to keep the level of ambulance service we now have or vote "no" and face the alternative.

"It will be longer response times and higher waits. They would charge more," Buchanan County Presiding Commissioner R.T. Turner said. He's describing the service any for-profit company coming to St. Joseph would provide.

Turner says the 1/4 cent sales tax hike is a vote of priorities.

"If voters don't want to pay a subsidy to help in that manner, then we will look to see if we can find something that will fit," he said. "It won't be the service we have today."

Earlier this year, Heartland Health announced it would discontinue providing ambulance service to the community on July 1, 2014. A "yes" vote would provide funding to turn service over to a county-run non-profit board.

"Heartland's been kind enough to sponsor the losses for years," said Dave Carter, Heartland Ambulance Services Director. "We just can't tolerate those losses anymore."

In recent days, organized opposition has come out against the ambulance tax. The political action committee Freedom PAC mailed flyers out implying that Turner and others in favor of the tax are trying to scare people into voting "yes."

"Nobody thinks we are trying to scare people into this or if it's a threat if this doesn't pass," turner said. "We've offered up a plan to keep the service we have."

Many agree that the quality of service provided now by Heartland is the lever we need to keep.

"Our level of training is very good, some of the best I've seen in the country," Carter said. "Their response times are spot on. Their patient care is incredible. Their compassion for the patients is incredible."

Turner says paying for that quality care comes at a price."

Ambulances are money losers and this is what it's going to take to supplement it," Turner said.

Supporters of the tax say if it fails, emergency response times could climb from an average of eight minutes to as much as 15-20 minutes.

The County Clerk's office estimates a 15 percent turnout for the election tomorrow.

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. - 7 p.m.


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