Ambulance tour on the horizon

A tour of Garvin County appears to be on the horizon for a couple of officials looking closer at possible ways to make sure ambulance services are covering the entire county.

What Carol Dillingham, an assistant district attorney for the county, and Dave Johnson, who serves as Garvin County's emergency management director, will be looking for is input from residents on the way to make county-wide EMS a reality someday.

“Obviously there's a need for better EMS coverage in our county,” Johnson said.

Both Johnson and Dillingham told all three county commissioners during a meeting this week they plan to start talking to people in the county's towns, including city councils, looking for their opinions on the ambulance issue.

The two are considering two possible avenues to address the issue.

“One is for citizens to petition the commissioners to put the 522 issue on the ballot,” he said.

The reference is to the possibility of establishing 522 EMS districts around the county following current school district boundaries.

The 522 districts, which must be first approved by voters in the separate districts, would be governed by independent boards made up of residents in those districts. The districts could assess 3 mills in property taxes and possibly issue bonds to fund the ambulance service.

A second way is a sales tax initiative much like the one currently in place to fund each of the 12 fire departments in Garvin County.

“Dave and I plan to go out and talk to citizens in the county about putting in these 522 districts. We're going to contact people and ask them to support this,” Dillingham said.

The plan includes meeting with fire chiefs and city councils around the county, along with ambulance districts already established.

“We want to tell these ambulance districts we're not trying to put you out of business but improve the services you're providing your citizens,” she said.

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Commissioners also approved $6,500 to build a new bench for the district court's largest courtroom.

“In the large courtroom they're going to have to modify the bench to put glass in,” Johnson said about plexiglass barriers related to keep the space safer from the COVID-19 virus.

Dillingham adds this cost will be part of the county's reimbursement requests because of the virus pandemic.

In fact, Garvin County will likely be making a dramatic increase in those requests based on an accepting kind of tone coming from the federal level.

“The legal presumption is if you turn in 100 percent of that it will automatically be reimbursed. All of that money can come back,” she said.

That includes payroll for the sheriff's office, jail personnel, emergency management and the county 911 center.

Going all the way back to March the reimbursements through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act could add up to around $1.4 million for the county.

“The state emergency management recommends we apply and then manage it very carefully if it's approved,” Johnson said.

Plans call for creating a special account for any COVID-19 reimbursements received by the county.

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The budget numbers are now in for a long-planned renovation project to provide more office space in the courthouse.

The total is now around $257,000 for the remodeling work to to give the sheriff and court clerk offices a little more room to operate.

One area to be renovated is the first floor annex space formerly occupied by the district attorney and county assessor. The plan is to expand the sheriff's office to include all that area.

The other is a space now used as storage for the sheriff's office, which is to be converted into a small office area for the court clerk's office.

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