ALPENA - Alpena County residents always have been supportive of their veterans and maintaining county emergency medical services. They are going to be asked to do so again by passing millage renewal requests on Aug. 5.
The county EMS renewal would be for 0.972 mill and would generate an estimated $850,000 annually. The tax funds would be used to maintain the current level of service county-wide and ensure quick, reliable and professional emergency response anywhere in the county. The care of the funds would fall to the Alpena County Ambulance Committee and any spending would come at the discretion of the board of commissioners.
Alpena Fire Chief Bill Forbush said the city and county have a great working relationship and the millage allows for the city to provide three advanced life support ambulance, paramedics and equipment for emergencies outside of the city. He said the money also will be used to better train and equip personnel in the outlying areas of the county who often respond to emergencies first.
Forbush said the average home value in Alpena County is about $80,000 and at the renewal rate it would cost a homeowner $78 a year. He said being able to provide quality emergency services for the community is something you can't put a price tag on and the millage would give residents bang for its buck.
"We have enhanced a lot on the last three or four years and the citizens are getting a really, really good deal on their investment," Forbush said. "We have additional ambulances, additional personnel and it really is an impressive system we have. The county has been a very good partner and have done things like put out new signs to help us be able to locate emergencies more easily."
Forbush said he wants voters to realize the money will not only be used for the ambulance service, but also to strengthen the volunteer network which is critical in more remote sections of the county. It also will help fund the medical control authority.
"We have very dedicated volunteers across the county that do a great job," Forbush said. "There are a number of different things the millage pays for outside of ambulances."
Forbush said the renewal would not increase taxes, but if for some reason it should be defeated by voters it would have a dramatic impact on getting emergency assistance to those who need help outside the city. He said a third of the funding to provide service county-wide comes in the form of the millage money, ambulance revenue and the city's general fund. He said each revenue source provides about one-third of the cost and if one source were to disappear, residents could be at risk.
"The ramifications would be disastrous, absolutely disastrous," Forbush said. "It would not be possible for the city to provide ambulance service outside of the city limits. I don't think the city taxpayers could be asked to bear the full cost of providing service of the outer areas. The volume itself is about in thirds. There are about a third of the calls in the city, about a third in Alpena Township and the other third everywhere else in the county. Providing the service to everywhere else is an expensive proposition and that is why the millage is so important."
The one-eighth mill renewal for veteran services would be used to keep the veterans office in Alpena open. The office assists 200-300 veterans a month and helps them cut through some of the red tape involved with benefit claims and many other services. Director Dan Cox said the renewal would generate about $116,000 a year that would be used to support veterans in the county.
"One hundred percent of the funds are used to operate this office. It covers salaries, supplies, training, rent, everything," Cox said. "It is really pretty simple. If the millage fails the office closes and veterans will have to do many of the things we help them with themselves. By all rights they can't go to other counties, so they would have to do it alone or go to Detroit to the VA's regional office and for many that just isn't something they can do."
Cox said Alpena always has been supportive of the nearly 13,000 veterans in the county. He said his office has helped those veterans receive almost $14 million in benefits. He said if the office were forced to close, that number would decline.
"The office has always gotten great support from everyone in the county," Cox said. "We get support from veterans, non-veterans, the commissioners, Mayor Matt Waligora, the base. We get a lot of support and I think we will again from the voters."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review ... at www.thealpenanews.com.