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District 20 clarifies funding request: previous reports in error

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Officials with Cowlitz-Lewis Fire District 20 say they feel they have clarified the origin of an invoice sent from Lewis County Medic One after having reviewed previous meeting minutes and financial statements.

Though this newspaper had printed Aug. 27 the invoice was related to a 2013 request for a $10,810 contribution to Medic One's general fund, District 20 Commissioners clarified during their Thursday meeting it was instead related to a $9,159 contribution to a new account set up within Medic One for vehicle replacement, adding the $10,810 payment had already been made through two installments in June and July of last year.

Medic One Operations Chief Grant Wiltbank said in an interview Friday the vehicle replacement fund had been established this year with the expectation of soon replacing the chassis of one of the agency's ambulances at an estimated cost of around $95,000, with member districts Lewis County Fire District 2, in Toledo, Lewis County Fire District 15, in Winlock, and District 20, in Vader and Ryderwood, to contribute according to the proportion of service they receive within their districts.

However, District 20 officials said they felt it had not appeared clear to them the fund had been established, as during the last budget cycle in November they had not officially committed to contributing the funds, and stated, after being invoiced earlier this year, they did not know why the funds were being requested and how they would be spent.

Now that the purpose of the contribution appears clear, District 20 said they feel they are in a position to honor the invoice, but still would like to ask questions of Medic One officials.

"The easy way to rectify this is to pay it, but that doesn't clean anything up," said District 20 Commission Chair Terry Williams, with officials resolving to attend the next interlocal meeting on Tuesday of this week to present their concerns.

Once such issue is how the other member districts have been asked to contribute to the vehicle fund, with Williams noting District 20 has been invoiced for the full amount described in the line item by Medic One.

Wiltbank stated Friday, when conversations began last year to create a vehicle fund, Medic One was also concerned about their ability to continue paying for nine paramedic positions as revenues continued to decline, due in part to decreases in federal reimbursements programs as well as the loss of a contract with Morton General Hospital for primary transports, among other factors.

Wiltbank said member districts felt maintaining all nine positions would be paramount to the success of Medic One and the commissioners of Districts 2 and 15 agreed in November to each contribute up to $50,000 per year through 2016 to fund the ninth paramedic position. District 20, continued Wiltbank, was then asked to contribute to the vehicle replacement fund in the amount they would have been asked to pay if all member districts were contributing.

The ninth position has since been eliminated after being vacated in June, with Wiltbank stating the decision was made at the discretion of the interlocal board as well as the paramedics' bargaining unit, and said the contributions from Districts 15 ad 20 are now expected to go into Medic One's general fund. Also, with one fewer paramedic within the agency, Wiltbank said they do not expect to re-chassis an ambulance until a later date and District 20's contribution to the vehicle replacement fund would also be added to the general fund.

It is expected these and other issues will have been broached by members of District 20 when they meet with the interlocal board on Tuesday, which took place at District 15 headquarters.

When addressing rumors that Medic One is prepared to exclude District 20 from ambulance service if they do not honor the invoice, Wiltbank said "the absolute opposite is the case," calling District 20 "a valuable member of the interlocal" and insisting there is no effort on the part of Medic One or its member districts to exclude them from services.

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