Saturday, October 31, 2020

Aldermen approve $5 TAAS fee increase

The number started at $6.25.

There was an offer on the table at $3 for three consecutive years that failed to pass.

When all the dust and discussion settled the agreed compromise was a $5 per capita increase that will be paid by outlying townships served by the Tomah Area Ambulance Service (TAAS). That $5 would be added to the present per capita fee of $7.50. As part of the motion, it was agreed the per capita amount would be reviewed each year for possible revision.

The motion for the increase was approved by the Tomah City Council by a 4-3 vote. Supervisors Lamont Kiefer, Adam Gigous, Jeff Cram and Dean Peterson voted in favor. Supervisors Donna Evans, Shawn Zabinski and Richard Yarrington voted no.

The resolution for a $6.25 bump came before the Tomah council after a recommendation from Tomah Ambulance Commission following their meeting in September with area township and village representatives.

The $6.25 increase added to the present per capita fee of $7.50 would have brought the amount to $13.75. 

It was noted the increase to $13.75 would generate nearly $120,000 with that money helping offset the costs for a proposed Tomah public safety building.

Tomah mayor Mike Murray said an increase is needed if the city realistically expects to pay for a building that at this time is estimated at cost at $10.5 million, minus land costs.

At a Tomah Ambulance Commission meeting in September local town officials were not keen on Murray's proposal. Several attended the council meeting to reaffirm their concern. Representatives from Byron, LaGrange, Greenfield and Tomah townships addressed the council.

They expressed consensus of the quality medical service TAAS provides when they arrive on site of an accident. They also shared consensus the amount proposed in the original resolution would create financial hardships for their respective town budgets.

Another shared sentiment is that townships are given more opportunity to provide fiscal input on the budget side of TAAS.

"Our concern is it's such a large building and it's not all (for) ambulance," said Howard Hanson, Town of Tomah. "$6.25 would create a burden on our townships and villages. I'm not saying we're against a per capita increase. We just like to know we will have annual input."

Hanson voiced concern that discussion over finances is a bit premature when a building site is not definitive at this stage. One site that has been discussed is a six acre parcel owned by Canadian Pacific Railroad.

Al Bernhardt of the Town of Byron said, "No one is saying anything negative about the service. We just have mixed feelings about what we would be obligated to pay for. With the overall footprint of the building, are we getting the best bang for the buck?"

Rural residents would be more comfortable when per capita hikes are proposed when allowed feedback prior any action, added Dave Pierce from the Town of Greenfield.

"Numbers do play tricks on you some time," Pierce said. "But at times it feels like taxation without representation. We would like to have some say on this once a year."

Murray contends the council needs to determine the city can pay for the building before a shovel hits dirt.

"We have to figure out where the money will come from or we can just kibosh the project," Murray said. "We have not put a shovel in the ground, but we need to be aware of new expenses of a new building."

Kiefer said not building is not an option, adding there has been talk of expanded room for TAAS staff since 2016.

"We have not come through," Kiefer said.

Kiefer offered the motion for the $5 increase, calling it "a compromise" at this stage to continue momentum for a new building. Prior to Kiefer's motion, Yarrington proposed a $9 increase paid over a three year period of $3/year increments, more gradual for outlying municipalities, he added.

That motion failed 5-2 with Yarrington and Zabinski the lone alders voting in favor. 

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