Murray County contemplates ambulance tax district

SLAYTON – It looks as if the majority of Murray County residents are well on their way to being taxed for ambulance service. During a public meeting last week, the Murray County Hospital Board met with members of the Slayton City Council and various township and city representatives to discuss implementing a tax district for the Murray County Ambulance coverage area.

Legislative consultant Buck McAlpin, who appeared at the meeting via phone, said a tax district can be used to fund any ambulance needs, such as radios, medical equipment or training. Murray County Ambulance Director Jenny Kirchner is only looking for rig replacement, which is something that needs to be done every five years on a rotating schedule.

In the past, an agreement has been sent to the 17 entities in the ambulance district. The townships and cities in the district are asked to pay an annual amount based on a per section or per population figure. That money goes into a fund used to purchase the new ambulances. The total for 2014 should have been in the neighborhood of $39,000.

The problem with that approach is that the agreements were not legally binding, and a few townships or cities did not pay or made partial payments. Some paid some years, but not others. The amount that has not been paid based on the agreements has varied from more than $25,000 in 2010 to just over $2,100 in 2012 to right around $5,320 in 2014.

The townships pay $35 per section, while the cities pay $10 per person, based on a population amount figured by the county. During last week’s meeting, one township supervisor said his township levied for the amount each year.

Murray County Auditor/Treasurer Heidi Winter expressed her hesitation regarding a tax district during the joint meeting, stating she has never witnessed a problem being fixed by adding a second level of bureaucracy. Despite her well-expressed misgivings, Slayton Mayor Miron Carney stepped forward to take an informal straw poll of city council members present, and asked if they would be willing to act as the initial fiscal agent to start the process.

Because the ambulance district does not encompass all of Murray County, county funds cannot be used to pay for initial costs that would be levied through property taxes.

The city of Slayton, which had been resistant to making the payment for several years for a variety of reasons, has now volunteered to pay for the upfront costs, such as retaining legal representation to write by-laws. They called a special meeting to formally approve the decision, which will take place tonight, and the Murray County Board of Commissioners will vote on the matter Tuesday during their regularly scheduled meeting.

Based on last week’s initial discussion, the tax district would be governed by a board represented by a member of each of the 17 entities within its borders. Even as the commissioners and a few members of the Slayton city councils talked, they decided that number sounded unwieldy, so whether each of those entities will remain represented is unknown.

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