STURGIS | Organizers say they are less than $600 away from $30,000 needed to keep Sturgis city ambulances responding to rural areas surrounding the city for the remainder of 2019.

Ross Lamphere of the Rural Sturgis Ambulance Group told the Sturgis City Council Monday night that the group is closing in on the fundraising goal set by the council in mid-July, to maintain ambulance service for an estimated 4,000 residents who live in rural Meade County, primarily east and north of Sturgis and along Interstate 90.

“We are $580 short,” Lamphere said. “I’m very optimistic that we’ll reach that.”

In a Monday news release, Andy Hollander and Anne Bodman of the Sturgis Ambulance Fund reported delivery of a check for $10,128.99 to the Sturgis Ambulance Service.

Lamphere also said the Rural Sturgis Ambulance Group has also begun gathering petition signatures to bring the proposal of establishment of an ambulance district to a public vote and also elect a board to oversee raising revenues to maintain service in future years.

Lamphere said a minimum of 257 valid petition signatures will need to be submitted to Meade County officials by Dec. 20, and if successful, a special election for an ambulance district would be in late March.

A similar election in December of 2018 to set up two rural ambulance districts was unsuccessful, but if a vote in March does approve formation of an ambulance district, another vote would be needed to establish a governing board, which would set special assessment fees to fund ambulance services for all residents of the district.

Lamphere said the proposed rural district would include the current area now served by the Sturgis ambulance, minus the City of Sturgis and the Buffalo Chip Campground.

The Buffalo Chip, Lamphere said, is awaiting a state Supreme Court decision on the campground’s attempt to remain a municipality.

Lamphere, owner and operator of a campground east of Sturgis, said he hoped the council’s goal is to find a long-term solution for the ambulance funding issue for rural Sturgis.

The council had voted on April 15 to redraw the service boundaries of the city-owned ambulance service, eliminating service to rural areas, including many campgrounds hosting Sturgis motorcycle rally visitors.

The move resulted because of an ongoing annual budget shortfall, estimated by Sturgis City Manager Daniel Ainslie to be in excess of $85,000 in 2018 in spite of the city appropriating $100,000 for the service for each of the past five years.

In July, the city council voted to delay a scheduled July 15 pullback of ambulance service boundaries to allow time for an estimated 4,000 residents in those areas to come up with $30,000 to cover costs for the remainder of 2018 and also to find an ongoing funding source to continue the service.

Lamphere said while fundraising for the $30,000 to cover service costs for the last six months of 2019 has been successful, future campaigns will likely struggle until a new ambulance district and governing board is in place, with special assessment revenues not available until 2021 at the earliest.

“If we are saddled with trying to collect another $30,000, another $60,000 for next year, something isn’t going to work,” Lamphere said.

“I am hopeful that it’s the council’s primary desire to find a long term solution to this,” he said.

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