Pa. EMS chief asks 22 municipalities for half-mill property tax increase
In his letter, Doug Dick, Superior Ambulance's leader, threatened to add charges for calls and to stop responding in towns that do not pay more
By Monica Pryts
The Herald, Sharon
PINE TOWNSHIP, Pa. — EMS responders have long sounded the alarm of a coming crisis in the service, none louder than Doug Dick.
A few weeks ago, Dick, chief of Pine Township-based Superior Ambulance, mailed letters requesting that the municipalities it serves direct a half-mill of taxes toward the company.
The request has roiled some local municipal officials, even as they understand the need to throw EMS services a lifeline.
Grove City Council Vice President Joel Bigley said he was disappointed by the letter, calling it, "almost like an ultimatum."
But elected representatives from municipalities that have received the letter say they still need to figure out how they can help while also making sure they're doing what's best for the residents without breaking any laws.
"Ultimately, we all have to help in some way," said Larry Stewart, Pine Township supervisor.
Dick sent the letters to the 22 municipalities in Mercer, Butler and Venango counties that Superior Ambulance serves.
In the letter, he asks municipal leaders to consider passing a half-mill property tax increase to help the company manage the EMS crisis.
The letter, dated Nov. 16, said the municipalities are not upholding state requirements to provide private ambulance service with appropriate financial aid and administrative assistance.
In the letter, Dick said the municipalities had 15 days to respond before Superior Ambulance would begin charging municipalities $500 every time the service responds to a call in the area.
If they do not pay within 30 days, Superior would give 90 days' notice that it will stop responding to 911 calls in that town while "pursuing other remedies."
Superior Ambulance wants to continue to serve the area, but the company cannot afford to provide such services without help, Dick wrote.
Bob Perrine, an East Lackawannock Township supervisor, also said that the municipality wants to help Superior Ambulance.
"Superior does most of our calls ... so we can't afford to lose them," he said.
Perrine said East Lackawannock is working with its solicitor while exploring its options while looking into the legalities of directing tax revenue to a private company.
"The townships are mandated by laws and regulations ... We can't just write them a check for 10 grand," Perrine said.
Perrine and his fellow supervisors urged residents to attend their next meeting, 7 p.m. Monday at the municipal building, 1019 Mercer-New Wilmington Road.
The supervisors will be discussing the issue at that meeting.
Perrine described the township as "unique;" it's small and rural with an older population and quite a few Amish families, so ambulance service is a necessity.
Main fire protection is provided by the volunteer departments from New Wilmington and Mercer's East End, and the township has a separate 3-mill fire tax that goes to those entities.
Perrine said he understands Superior Ambulance needs revenue, but there has to be a better way to go about it than what Dick proposed in his letter.
Pine Township's Stewart said he understands that Dick sent the letter to get people talking about the issue.
Stewart, president of the Pine Township Engine Company, said he knows that EMS service nationwide is plagued with a lack of resources.
Since Pine Township has already adopted its 2023 budget, it's too late to consider an EMS tax for next year.
Grove City Council agreed on Nov. 21 to form a committee to further study the issue.
Harrisville Mayor Gary Hughes attended that meeting and told Grove City Council his borough has been leaning toward approving a half-mill property tax for Superior Ambulance.
Dick said he knows there are differences between the state codes governing boroughs and townships laws, but he thinks both entities have the power to enact the tax he requested.
Liberty Township adopted a half-mill EMS tax this summer, and Dick said he is communicating with the municipalities and is getting some positive feedback.
He noted that he had sent a letter to Grove City in October suggesting a half-mill tax increase.
The state House Majority Policy Committee, then led by legislative Republicans, held a hearing on the EMS crisis Oct. 11 in Grove City, where participants discussed an EMS tax.
His latest letter is more in-depth and comes more than a year after local talks and the establishment of an EMS task force, he said.
Some people don't like change, but not providing financial assistance would be a violation of state law, he said.
He added that municipalities could earmark up to 25 percent of the local services tax for EMS; move money around to come up with extra funds; or use American Rescue Plan money.
"And there is nobody else to call," he said, because other ambulance companies are further away and also suffering the strain of decreasing number of employees and revenues that fall well short of covering expenses.
The median age of an EMS provider in Pennsylvania is 45, meaning there aren't enough younger people entering the field.
And even if each of the 22 towns adopted a half-mill tax, the results would be "minimal," just over $234,000, he said.
Buying a new fully stocked ambulance is well over $200,000, and supply and manpower issues are ongoing.
He'd like to see a town hall meeting organized to continue the discussion
Dick said he has heard some "absolutely absurd" suggestions — eliminating benefits and offer only part-time positions or send only one certified person out on calls.
Dick said he has been looking to other communities in the region and uses Pike County as a good example of what can work.
There are 13 municipalities in Pike County; all but one adopted a 2-mill tax, which the county matched.
"They generated $4.1 million," Dick said.
He asks residents to encourage their elected officials to support Superior Ambulance, which serves these municipalities:
- Mercer County — Townships of Coolspring, East Lackawannock, Findley, Jackson, Jefferson, Lake, Liberty, Sandy Lake, Springfield, Wolf Creek and Worth; and the boroughs of Grove City, Jackson Center, Mercer, Sandy Lake and Stoneboro.
- Venango County — Barkeyville borough and Irwin Township.
- Butler County — Harrisville borough and Marion and Mercer townships.
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