Bill seeks to resolve ambulance district conflicts in rural Idaho

The proposed bill would allow for the creation of taxing districts encompassing communities served by the same EMS across city and county lines


Kathy Hedberg
Lewiston Tribune, Idaho

GRANGEVILLE, Idaho — A bill currently making its way through the Idaho Legislature is aimed at resolving conflicts involving ambulance services that have torn at communities like Kooskia and Kamiah for years.

Idaho County Commission Chairman Skip Brandt recently proposed legislation that would allow people being served by ambulance and emergency medical services in rural areas to form independent taxing districts. The legislation would call for all residents within the district to financially support the services and make decisions about how the districts are governed.

A proposed bill in Idaho would allow for the formation of independent taxing districts for communities across city and county lines served by the same ambulance service. The bill would help resolve conflicts such as that in Kooskia, where city taxpayers support the ambulance service that responds to outside communities with larger populations. (Photo/Kooskia Emergency Services Facebook)
A proposed bill in Idaho would allow for the formation of independent taxing districts for communities across city and county lines served by the same ambulance service. The bill would help resolve conflicts such as that in Kooskia, where city taxpayers support the ambulance service that responds to outside communities with larger populations. (Photo/Kooskia Emergency Services Facebook)

“The nuance of the legislation is that, over the past year and a half, we’ve had turmoil in ambulance service in Kooskia and Kamiah,” Brandt said Wednesday. “This is an attempt to solve those issues.”

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, drew up the first draft of the proposal, but the legislation was introduced in the Senate and is being sponsored by Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville.

The genesis of the proposal began when problems arose regarding the Kooskia ambulance service. That service is operated by the city of Kooskia and financially supported by city taxpayers.

The ambulance, however, reaches places outside city limits. Many of the volunteers staffing the ambulance and EMS also live outside city limits, Brandt said.

“So the ambulance service out of Kooskia responds to a population four to five times the population of Kooskia and it is an ambulance service funded by fees, but also tax dollars from city residents,” Brandt said.

The Kooskia City Council has the obligation of the ambulance service “but the property taxpayer outside city limits does not pay for heating the ambulance barn, replacement of equipment, insurance on the ambulance — that is all done on the backs of city residents,” Brandt said.

“Because of all the volunteers that participate in ambulance service outside the city limits, the issue that came up is, they want some say over that ambulance. Whether it’s training, equipment, or whatever — that’s not going to happen because (the ambulance) belongs to the taxpayers of Kooskia.”

The issue has become contentious in the past year and a half, and last year resulted in a failed recall attempt on former Kooskia Mayor Charlotte Schilling.

Brandt’s proposal would call for all the people being served by the Kooskia ambulance to form their own taxing district — along the lines of rural fire districts — and have their own governing board that would include city as well as out-of-town residents.

The legislation would enable places like Kamiah, which has had its own ambulance troubles and covers residents in both Idaho and Lewis counties, to form a district that would cross county lines. It also takes the responsibility of overseeing an ambulance and EMS service out of the hands of a city council or the county commissioners.

Brandt said he introduced his proposal at a recent meeting of the Idaho Association of Idaho Counties meeting and “I have, to date, not heard any opposition to it.”

The legislation would grandfather in any ambulance district that currently exists and — should a district vote fail — it would not affect any services that are now being provided, he said.

“If it were to fail, everything stays exactly the same,” Brandt said. “Nothing is lost. The ambulance service continues as long as the city of Kooskia wants to provide it, but it will have demonstrated whether the residents outside (the city limits) think it’s worthwhile to be taxed (for the services).”

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©2020 the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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