30 medics, EMTs lose jobs after sudden closure of service

Ill. village board votes to end ALS ambulance service and contract with not-for-profit service

By Scott Hilyard
Journal Star, Peoria.

PEORIA HEIGHTS, Ill. — The Village Board is expected on Tuesday to end a five-year experiment of providing paramedic ambulance service to its residents.

The board likely will vote to disband the ambulance department that has been losing the village $200,000 a year, and approve a contract with Advanced Medical Transport of Central Illinois.

The dissolution of the department comes one month after voters in Peoria Heights rejected a proposed property tax increase to fund the ambulance service. The nonbinding proposition was defeated by a tally of 924 no votes, or 58.6 percent, to 652 yes votes, or 41.4 percent. If the tax had passed, village residents could have seen an increase of $60.13 in the real estate tax on a home with a fair market value of $100,000, or about $5 a month.

The vote was too decisive, said Peoria Heights Mayor Mark Allen, for the board to approve and implement a tax increase on its own and maintain the ambulance service.

"I don't think there's much of a decision for the board to make," Allen said Monday. "The voters were pretty clear that they don't want an increase in their property taxes. Without it, we can't afford the ambulance service."

Paramedic Brennan Kennedy, one of two shift supervisors, was resigned to the fate of his department.

"Our hearts are heavy, but there is some understanding there, too," Kennedy said Monday. "The financial situation was not something the board could sustain, and the voters didn't want their taxes to go up."

In line to lose their jobs are two full-time paramedics, 18 part-time paramedics and 10 to 12 part-time emergency medical technicians. Although an ordinance "eliminating the Peoria Heights Ambulance Department," is an item on Tuesday's board agenda that was posted before Thanksgiving, Kennedy said the topic hasn't been discussed much on the job.

"There's still uncertainty. Since there hasn't been a vote, there isn't much to discuss," Kennedy said. "I still have a little bit of hope (that the department will continue to operate)."

In 2009, Peoria Heights became the first city or village in Peoria County to offer Advanced Life Support ambulance service. Advanced Life Support, unlike Basic Life Support, staffs its ambulances with paramedics who have a higher level of training and can perform more medical procedures than emergency medical technicians. The department covers the village 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"Having a village our size with an Advanced Life Support ambulance service was a point of pride with residents in this community," Allen said. "But there is also tax fatigue out there. Even though the village's portion of the tax rate is about 4 percent of the total bill, people feel like they're being taxed to death."

Details of a contract with AMT had not been finalized Monday. Typically, AMT charges customers, not municipalities, for its services.

"We would lose control of our ambulance services," Allen said, noting that the call volume was too low for AMT to have a dedicated ambulance available in the village. "We would become customers."


©2014 Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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