A series of public meetings that will be scheduled later this year could have significant effects on public safety in Baker City and Baker County, and everyone should consider attending one.
The issue is ambulance service in Baker City and in about half of the county, including Baker Valley, and specifically which agency provides that service.
The Baker City Fire Department is a current provider for that service area. MedTransport Inc. of North Powder is also a licensed ambulance provider.
The Baker County Board of Commissioners has the legal authority to pick licensed ambulance providers for the service area. Commissioners recently received three bids for what’s expected to be a minimum 10-year contract, awarded by June 1, 2020.
Baker City Fire Department and MedTransport both submitted bids. So did Metro West Ambulance Inc. of Hillsboro. County officials have not released details about any of the bids.
Jason Yencopal, the county’s emergency management director, said the county embarked on the bidding process in part because officials expect to ask voters to approve a new tax or fee to cover the cost of ambulance service, or possibly to create a special taxing district. It’s not clear whether such a measure would go to voters throughout the ambulance service area, including Baker City, or only to voters who live outside the city limits.
Earlier this year County Commissioner Mark Bennett said county officials feel an obligation to consider all possible options for ambulance service before asking voters to pay more.
In 2017 City Manager Fred Warner Jr. said the city might not be able to continue dispatching ambulances to some areas outside the city limits if the city didn’t accept a three-year federal grant that allowed the fire department to hire three new firefighter/paramedics.
The city did accept that grant, but the money goes away in 2021.
But the potential ramifications of the commissioners’ decision is not limited to ambulance service — it could affect the city fire department’s ability to respond to fires as well.
Baker City Fire Chief John Clark, along with Jason Jacobs of the firefighters’ union, have expressed concern about what would happen if commissioners don’t pick the Fire Department to continue as an ambulance service provider. Ambulance billing supplies about 44% of the Fire Department’s annual budget of $2.15 million. City property owners contribute most of the rest through property taxes. The city doesn’t receive property tax revenue from properties outside the city limits.
In a written statement, Jacobs said that if the city lost the ambulance contract the Fire Department would have to lay off up to six of its 16 paid staff immediately.
Clark said those staffing cuts would not only reduce his department’s firefighting capacities inside the city, but it likely would mean the department would no longer respond to fires outside the city, where the department now renders aid to rural fire districts through mutual aid agreements.
Property owners inside the city could end up paying more for fire insurance, Clark said.
Yencopal said public comments made during the meetings will be forwarded to commissioners to consider as they review the three bids.
Meeting times and places will be published in the Herald. Residents should take advantage of the opportunity to learn more, and to express their opinions on this vital topic.
— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor