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District 15 announces intent to leave Medic One

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The future of Lewis County Medic One has become more uncertain after it was announced Tuesday Lewis County Fire District 15, based in Winlock, intends to withdraw from the agency by the middle of February.

Detailed in a letter dated Dec. 16 from District 15's board of commissioners, the board said their decision had not been easy but was prompted by an expected shortfall in Medic One's 2015 budget of close to $300,000, as well as other concerns about the agency's financial outlook.

"We make this decision because we have determined that the financial stability of the Interlocal Organization [aka Medic One] has deteriorated to a point where it cannot continue to provide service at an affordable, acceptable level of service," stated the letter, which cited other factors such as an expected loss of revenue after Lewis County Fire District 5, based in Napavine, chose to contract with American Medical Response as of Jan. 1, as well as a lack of solutions to tackle the expected deficit.

Medic One's board of directors had voted during their Nov. 18 meeting to accept a $300,000-negative budget in an effort to continue providing 24/7 ambulance services to member districts in Ryderwood, Vader, Toledo and Winlock, as well as contract districts in Salkum, Mossyrock and Onalaska. The shortfall had been expected due to recent decreases in call volume and collection rates, as well as the departure of District 5, who had accounted for roughly half of the income used to service contract districts.

The board had originally been discussing the possibility of a balanced budget providing only part-time services for Salkum, Mossyrock and Onalaska, but these districts reminded the board Medic One is contractually obligated to provide them 24/7 service and, in lieu of breaking that contract, a deficit budget was approved with the intention of discussing strategies in the near future to account for the shortfall.

One such strategy was to ask the districts serviced by Medic One to contribute cash from their general budgets based on their portion of the projected deficit, which would have been calculated using the percentage of calls they receive within a year. It had been stated this strategy would have only been temporary as a means to sustain the agency one more year, while officials sought changes in management and policy to bring about a long-term solution.

But commissioners with District 15 stated they felt this would amount to subsidizing the expenses of other districts with funding intended for their own constituents and decided, for lack of a viable solution, they could not remain with Medic One.

"If this was a business, we would have been bankrupt," stated District 15 Commission Chair Randy Pennington of Medic One's solvency problems, adding his district had not taken issue with the services being provided by the paramedics, but were rather concerned with the agency's financial outlook.

Pennington said his district has already begun the process of searching for alternatives and said they are not seeking a specific agency at this time, nor have they ruled out any options. It is expected a decision by District 15 for local ambulance service will be reached by the Feb. 14 deadline they have given Medic One.

During the Dec. 16 meeting of the Medic One board of directors, it had been expected the districts involved would begin discussing ways to reduce the expected shortfall for next year, but such talks were put on hold in light of District 15's letter of intent, as their decision to leave nullifies any current budget or deficit proposals.

Medic One Operations Chief Grant Wiltbank said Lewis County Fire District 2, based in Toledo, has indicated a willingness to spearhead efforts at reforming and retaining the agency, while the contract districts remain interested in continuing, as well.

"It's nice that some of the districts are still working together," he said. "We're going to see what we can do with the economic resources that we have."

A workshop for the remaining districts to discuss their options is expected to be scheduled in the near future.

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