STURGIS | A drive to raise money for ambulance service outside of Sturgis city limits hit a snag Tuesday when someone absconded with the contents of a collection jar in a Main Street business.
Bob Davis, owner of Sturgis Photo & Gifts, posted a surveillance video showing a young man browsing at his store and then taking an undisclosed amount of money destined for Sturgis ambulance.
Sturgis Police Chief Geody VanDewater shared Davis’ video on the police department's Facebook page with the hope of identifying a suspect.
“We’ve got a good image of him,” he said.
With the clock ticking on the future of ambulance service in the rural areas, organizers hope visitors at this week’s Sturgis motorcycle rally can kick-start a drive to raise $60,000 needed by the end of December to cover a shortfall in its funding.
Andy Hollander, who worked for Sturgis Ambulance Service for 20 years, and his wife, Anne Bodman, said collection jars have been placed at 10 campgrounds, 25 businesses and restaurants, churches and city offices.
They hope to raise at least the $60,000 needed to keep the service viable in the short term.
“Sturgis once was a small ambulance service but is not small anymore,” Hollander said.
Sturgis, which operates the ambulance service on a $100,000 annual budget raised though city taxes, said funding has fallen well short of operating expenses for years.
In April, the City Council decided that ambulance service boundaries should be redrawn on July 15, leaving out areas just outside of city limits, including many campgrounds that host thousands of bikers during the rally.
The council’s decision came after a county election in December failed to establish ambulance districts, which could have levied a tax for the service.
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A group formed to find an ambulance funding solution asked the council in June to delay resetting the boundaries while it sought ways to raise money to cover this year’s $60,000 shortfall.
On July 15, the council voted to move the deadline to the end of December, covering rural ambulance service through the rally.
Hollander said there are at least 60,000 motorcyclists who stay at campgrounds during the rally. He suggested each campground charge $1 per person to cover the shortfall.
“Put a sign up that says we are including in your bill $1 for your entire stay to cover Sturgis Ambulance Service,” he said.
Hollander said he received push back from some campground owners, who said their taxes should cover ambulance service. Others allowed the collection jars at their campgrounds.
Hollander also placed a social media challenge between Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle for donations to the ambulance service. He also suggested passing a bucket at rally concerts.
Sturgis Ambulance Service Director Shawn Fischer said many people don't appreciate just how much it costs to operate an ambulance service.
She said going forward legislation is needed that declares ambulance service essential in South Dakota.
“There can be areas in this state that are not covered by an ambulance service and the state does not do anything about that,” Fischer said.
She said ambulance funding is a statewide problem, citing an example of the Bison Ambulance Service that was forced to close for six months.
“If you would have crashed in the Bison area, you would have had to wait for an ambulance from Faith or Newell or possibly Lemmon,” she said.