It’s time leadership of the Jefferson County Emergency Services District got the point: It needs to pursue a merger with the overlapping Jefferson County Fire District.
No matter how you slice it, a single fire and ambulance district will almost certainly serve county residents better than two separate districts are able to do. That was clear in the final report on a study of consolidation done by the Matrix Consulting Group. The report was issued in May.
The EMS district has fought the idea of a merger from the get-go. It would not contribute money to finance the consolidation study, and recently the district’s board approved a motion saying a merger would be “financially imprudent” and that it would participate in the discussions no further.
Money isn’t the issue. Service is.
Combining the two services along with increasing tax revenues now paid for the fire district would allow the new district to staff two ambulances per shift and increase the number of personnel for fire apparatus per shift. That means better service for those who live in the county.
It also would mean fully coordinated calls for ambulance and fire services, something that doesn’t — and can’t, with two separate organizations — happen now. Service, in other words, would improve.
The changes also would reduce the need for volunteers for ambulance service, something the report notes it’s become more difficult to rely on. Again, reliable staffing means better service in Jefferson County.
Finally, and this is a money matter, the current EMS district is largely financed through fees it collects. As the population ages, more of those fees are paid by Medicare. Neither Medicare nor the Oregon Health Plan pay full price for the services, and over time that could cause serious problems. A combined agency with a tax base likely could manage the issue better.
If the Jefferson County Emergency Services District fails to pursue a merger, it is failing to serve its community.