MANISTIQUE, Mich. (WZMQ) – In November, voters will decide on the future of emergency medical services in Schoolcraft County.
“Your Vote Can Save A Life,” read signs throughout the county. It’s the message Schoolcraft County officials are spreading ahead of the November 7 election, as the area’s EMS system faces the threat of having to shut down.
“The City of Manistique was notified January 5 by the Department of Treasury to submit—on behalf of the ambulance/EMS fund—a corrective action plan and a deficit elimination plan,” said Manistique City Manager Corey Barr. “The fund is not self-supporting right now.”
“The budget that runs the ambulance service here locally, it’s an enterprise budget, which means there’s no tax dollars that actually go into the function or operations of the EMS division,” explained Tim Russell, director of Manistique Public Safety. “It’s all derived from medical billing.”
According to Russell, 62% of the county’s billing is Medicare.
“Medicare tells you what they’re going to pay,” he said. “There’s no negotiating or additional coding of these runs. We’re the fourth largest county geographically in the state. The billing is no longer covering what we need to sustain operations.”
To combat the deficit, Manistique Public Safety is asking voters to support a five-year millage.
“2.25 mills is based off your taxable value,” Barr said. “If you have a 50-thousand dollar taxable value, it’s going to be $112.50 a year.”
The millage would fund operations and the replacement and improvement of ambulances.
“To place an order for an advanced life support ambulance today, you’re talking $250 – $300,000 just for the ambulance,” said Russell. “We do run four ambulances, and our average age of our ambulances is 8. If you average all of their miles out, it’s about 167,000 miles on these ambulances. We are the primary inter-facility agency out of Schoolcraft Memorial, which means we are traveling to Marquette, Green Bay, Petoskey, Traverse City, Flint quite regularly. Last year, our fuel cost alone was $31,000.”
The proposed millage would be the first time emergency medical services would be funded by taxpayer money in Schoolcraft County’s history. According to Barr, a county-wide millage requires partnerships.
“One being the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners,” he said. “The millage will run through the county, be collected by the county, and then dispersed to the city.”
If the millage does not pass in November, it will appear on the ballot again in the spring. If it fails both times, Manistique Public Safety will be legally required to shut down EMS operations at the end of June 2024.
“It is not a decision that we made,” Russell said. “We understand what Treasury has to do and their responsibility, but we just want an opportunity to do our job. We need that funding to do that.”
Russell says if the county’s EMS services were forced to shut down, approximately 8,000 people would be left without life-saving care.
“About 98 percent of the county is what we service,” he said. “There is a volunteer basic life support in a township bordering ourselves, but they are strictly volunteer. During most of the working hours of each day, they struggle to even pull a crew, so we’re covering that area also.”
Russell says if voters do not support the millage proposal, it will truly mean the difference between life and death.
“If we don’t exist, there’ll be nobody to answer these calls, which means someone will lose their life,” he said.
Schoolcraft County residents are invited to two public forums in the coming weeks to learn more about the proposed millage from healthcare professionals and first responders. The first forum will be held on Wednesday, October 18, at the Doyle Township Hall in Gulliver. The second forum will take place at the Manistique High School auditorium on Tuesday, October 24. Both forums will begin at 6:00 p.m.