Officials from the Matrix Consulting Group will update leadership of Jefferson County’s emergency medical and fire districts and other officials on a potential merger between the fire and medical districts in the next few weeks.
The consultant report, paid for, in part, by the county government, recommends the two districts merge. It would cut administration and improve staffing and service in the process. While the Jefferson County Fire District has generally supported the merger, the Jefferson County Emergency Medical Services District generally has not. That hasn’t changed.
It’s unfortunate. John Curnutt, chairman of the board of the emergency services district, argues that nothing in the report proves the EMS district will be better off in the merger. He measures “better off” in terms only of budget and finances, and, he says, the report hasn’t persuaded him those will be better.
Both districts will see improvements, however. As a combined, single district, they’ll share a single administration, saving money in the process, among other things. Too, and this is something EMS district leaders, fire district leaders and others should pay close attention to: The public will get better service from the districts if they merge.
The EMS district staff includes a large number of part-timers, and the district is finding it increasingly difficult to fill those positions. The fire district relies on volunteers nights and weekends. A merged district would be able to staff two ambulances and fire equipment around the clock with full-time staff.
As for finances, a combined district would be in a better position to seek a local option levy for additional money than is now the case. The fire district does have a tax base, but the EMS district does not, and a measure that would have given it one was defeated by voters in 2017.
Public safety services are critical to any community, and in largely rural counties like Jefferson, their ability to get to far-flung places quickly is limited by geography. A merger wouldn’t change the distances traveled, but it would improve staffing for the new, unified district. That, in turn, should speed response times and improve the service both can provide.