BELLE FOURCHE – Butte County Commissioners on Friday, March 30, voted to put the question of starting an ambulance taxing district onto the June 5 primary election ballot.
The vote came immediately after a required public hearing on the election.
“Now it’s up to the public to decide,” Belle Fourche Mayor Gary Hendrickson said after the hearing that drew about two dozen people.
The hearing itself was a matter of form to meet state law. County commissioners and city councils in Newell and Belle Fourche already had agreed to take the issue to all voters in the county.
Commission chairman Stan Harms said that the ball would now be in the court of the county’s ambulance board to set up information meetings on how the ambulance district would work, what it would cost real estate property owners, and how it would be governed.
Commissioner Steve Smeenk of Newell, who represents the county on the current board, said, “We will get the information out.”
He said that as of Friday no information meetings had been scheduled.
The question will be whether Butte County will be covered by a new taxing district to cover increasing costs of operating the ambulance service.
Ambulance service in Butte County currently is currently owned and operated through an agreement between the county government and the two cities. It is governed by a board with county, Belle Fourche and Newell representatives.
Two divisions of the service are stationed in Newell and Belle Fourche.
The board requested that the taxing district be formed in order to meet increased costs of a paid staff in Belle Fourche on grounds that volunteers were not available to respond to all calls.
Management of the Belle Fourche division changed in 2011, first with hiring a full time, 40-hour weekly salaried ambulance director in Belle Fourche, then with hiring a full time Belle Fourche response staff that took effect in late December and early January.
Newell has not reported problems with enough volunteers to staff service based there.
Butte County Deputy State’s Attorney Tim Vander Heide noted that Friday’s hearing wasn’t to discuss the merits of forming a district, but just whether the question should be brought to a vote of the people.
An ambulance taxing district would cover all of Butte County if approved by voters in June. Directors would be elected countywide in districts similar to county commission districts.
Smeenk and Vander Heide have gone on the record as supporting the district as the only practical way to pay for ambulance service when available qualified volunteers are not available.
Hendrickson had gone on the record that he is concerned about current budget projections and whether the budget and salaried staff could be reduced.
Vander Heide said that the ballot question will be written so it easy to understand for a simple yes or no vote.