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County to seek tax hike for ambulances

Courtesy Photo Alpena firefighter/paramedics Doug Krueger, left, and Sam Lucas ready one of the Alpena County ambulances for action on Thursday. The county plans to seek a new, 1.5-mill tax in the August election to continue the service, as well as enhance it.

ALPENA — Alpena County will ask voters to approve a new, four-year, 1.5-mill property tax during the August election for countywide ambulance coverage.

If approved by voters, the tax would generate about $1.4 million in its first year and provide advanced life support ambulance service, as well as training, needed supplies and equipment, and reimbursement to first responders in the county’s townships. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 house about $75 a year.

The county currently charges 1 mill, or about $50 a year for the owner of a $100,000 house, for the service.

Currently, the City of Alpena contracts with the county to provide ambulance service throughout the county. If the new tax passes, it would allow the city to continue doing so while upgrading its ambulance fleet. Alpena Fire Chief Bill Forbush said the jump from 1 mill to 1.5 mills would be the first increase since 1980, though the costs of ambulances have doubled in price from about $100,000 to at least $200,000.

Revenue from the first 1 mill of the tax would go to the city for ambulance service and vehicles, Forbush said.

The city would continue to supply four ambulances and the needed staffing to respond anywhere in the county, 24 hours a day.

Revenue collected through the new 0.5 mills would reimburse township first responders, education, drug drop boxes, supplies, and upgrades to the county’s 911 system.

As costs rise, the county ambulance service is sort of on shaky ground, Forbush said, and prospects aren’t bright if the millage was to fail.

“If it fails in August, we would have about six months to get it back on the ballot again,” he said. “But, if it failed again, the whole system would fail and have to end. The people in the county have been very supportive us, so I don’t think it will fail.”

August may seem like a long way away, but Forbush said a campaign is being developed to educate voters, answer questions, and address concerns. The current threat of COVID-19 makes addresses to large groups impossible.

“The plan is to get out and talk to all of the groups, clubs, and government boards throughout the county, so everyone understands how important this is,” Forbush said. “The challenge is, we are unable to do that, and, really, the only way we are able to do it now is electronically. Once this settles down, hopefully we can get out and tell more people about it.”

The ballot language still needs to be approved by the Alpena County Board of Commissioners at an upcoming meeting. The election is on Aug. 4.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.

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