Park City Fire District requests amendment to emergency medical services
Summit County Council was asked to change the EMS licensure structure after nearly 3 decades
After the recent challenges within the North Summit Fire District, the Summit County Council is considering changes to how emergency medical services are provided.
On Wednesday, elected officials were asked to amend the structure of the county’s EMS license, which is currently contracted out to the Park City Fire District, to ensure efficient response and give financial independence to the fire department. The topic has been discussed occasionally over the last few years but was reintroduced when East Side residents raised concerns about local control.
“We’ve been talking locally about this for at least two and a half years and there are a lot of things that have changed over the last year (at the state level) about how essential services are paid for and provided as well as what’s happened locally with our fire districts in the past few months,” Summit County Manager Tom Fisher said. “We have kind of a convergence of a lot of things that have happened that provided us an opportunity to look at things differently.”
Park City Fire Chief Bob Zanetti laid out a series of challenges the fire department is experiencing based on the current EMS licensure in the county, which he said was intended to be temporary.
Before August 1996, Holy Cross Hospital operated ambulance services in the Park City area. Then, Summit County and the Park City Fire District took over the licensure for the county, according to a staff report. The following year, Park City Fire was approached by the county to take on the management of the North Summit area.
By January 2001, the fire district began managing ambulance services in North Summit under a separate agreement. Summit County again approached Park City Fire in October 2013 to manage ambulance services, this time in South Summit, under a different interlocal agreement. According to the staff report, the agreements were not meant to be permanent and were only supposed to be in place until crews in North Summit and South Summit can manage their own services.
This led Park City Fire to pursue more efficient solutions in providing emergency medical services while also protecting the community’s economic base.
“There has been expressed desire to do it differently and part of that process is understanding where we’re at right now and the difference between how things are budgeted and what they really cost, the different entities, and then we can go from there,” Fisher said.
Zanetti said the first step is looking at Park City Fire and its EMS cost breakdown. The hard cost, including wages and benefits, medical supplies and equipment, ambulances as well as maintenance, repairs and fuel, plus billing and Medicaid collection expenses, totals more than $3.3 million. The number doesn’t include the cost of fire stations or housing ambulances, utilities, management fees, onboarding, computer hardware and software or certification fees.
The Park City Fire District uses five ambulances, including 10 personnel a day and 26 workers in total.
Zanetti said the fire district generated around $2.4 million in revenue from ambulance billing within the Park City Fire District boundaries in 2021. Summit County received that money, which doesn’t include revenue from EMS services in North Summit and South Summit.
Summit County returned around $2 million to Park City Fire after the district submitted an expense report, Zanetti said, which left a surplus of $351,000 generated by the fire district’s ambulance service in the county fund.
“If we’re looking at that in plain numbers, that left the Park City Fire District on the hook for $1.289 million,” he said. “So again, where I’m going with this today is, I’m not asking for money – I’m asking for two changes.”
Zanetti continued that he wants the County Council to amend the current EMS license and to separate Park City Fire, so it receives all the revenue. He said the fire district has already been on its own since 1996, but it’s been “more or less an oversight.”
He argued that the current EMS financial structure is unbalanced because Park City Fire is integrated within the system without tangible ownership. According to the staff report, there are large costs associated with operating the EMS system that is above the county’s budgeted amount, which means Park City Fire absorbs the additional costs through a separate taxing entity. As a result, Park City residents are taxed twice and help subsidize the East Side. Zanetti said the solution is to separate and use the Park City Fire District entity to find the total EMS operation in the Park City area.
“It costs more than the county is budgeting to support that contract in that area,” Fisher said.
If the Park City Fire District is removed from the licensure, Zanetti said the county would have to get a new license to govern North Summit and South Summit. Under state law, a governmental entity can hold the EMS license and have any number of contractors serving the area. That part of the process isn’t expected to take long, Zanetti said, and he estimated it would take about 30 days. However, switching the account information to ensure revenue goes directly to Park City Fire could take up to three months.
County Councilor Roger Armstrong questioned the financial impact on the county. Matt Leavitt, a county finance officer, said staffers have been looking at the issue as county-wide where one district, in this case, Park City, brings in more than another. Park City Fire has ascertained it can cover its expenses with its tax base, which means the East Side will have to make up for the difference if the separation occurs.
“We’ve been self-sufficient for the last 25 years and we’re subsidizing the rest of the county, that’s the way I look at it,” Zanetti said. “Because that’s what’s happening.”
Fisher said one of the natural questions is what it will cost East Side taxpayers to fund EMS services and the length of time it will take other fire departments, like the North Summit Fire District, to implement independent services, which could take 18 months. Park City Fire would help provide services during the transitional period.
The County Council asked for more clarification about the Park City Fire District’s numbers and said there’s a need for more discussion with stakeholders to better understand how the county would be impacted.
“Changes like this have to be very, very carefully considered so we understand where the economic weight falls so we’re not doing more harm than good,” Armstrong said.
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