LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) –- A state lawmaker has prefiled a bill making it legal for suburban fire districts to provide ambulance service and collect additional taxes after the practice was publicly questioned.
Jason Nemes, a Republican representative from Louisville, introduced the legislation Thursday after the union representing Louisville Metro EMS workers questioned whether or not suburban fire districts could legally levy additional taxes on residents to provide ambulance service.
“If the movement is successful, then it will jeopardize the lives of the citizens that I represent,” Nemes said Friday. It will also jeopardize the lives of citizens all over Louisville, west Louisville and south Louisville.”
Half of the 14 suburban fire districts in Jefferson County that operate ambulances now tax their residents more than 10 cents per $100 of assessed property. In some cases, as in Beuchel, the rate is even higher: 20 cents per $100 of assessed property.
The EMS union argued that rate is illegal and cited a letter from Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear’s office that it feels bolsters its case. The March 27 letter, from the Assistant Attorney General Taylor Payne, said fire districts can’t increase the 10 cent rate unless it is the "primary" service provider in the district.
Several suburban fire departments said they clearly serve that role in their areas. But Teamsters 783 union President John Stovall, which represents Louisville Metro EMS, suggests that Metro ambulances are the primary provider.
Nemes’ bill would eliminate the question entirely.
“I think the law is clear that these fire protection districts are allowed EMS services,” Nemes said. What my bill does is that it says, 'OK, someone has asked the question.' I think the answer is very clear but because someone has asked the question let’s just remove it from the possibility of anyone thinking it’s unclear.”
All suburban districts operating ambulances currently have agreements in place with Louisville Metro to respond to calls outside of their district if needed. Louisville Metro still responds to calls in the individual fire districts when requested.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Stovall said of the bill, “this is a typical response. But, in the long run, is going to cost good union members their jobs and taxpayers more money for a duplicate service.”
Several fire chiefs believe if the law was interpreted as forcing districts to operate ambulances without the higher tax, it would mean a dramatic decrease in the amount of ambulances available to answer calls.
Stovall said that because his members are full-time EMS workers and don’t split time as a firefighter, they can provide a better service than the suburban district are capable of providing.
A previous letter about a similar topic from the attorney general’s office was sent in 2013 to the Middletown Fire Department when it was in the process of acquiring Anchorage Emergency Medical Services. In that letter, Assistant Attorney General James Herrick stated that, at that time, Anchorage was the primary service provider for the area and agreed that taxes could be raised about the 10 cent threshold.
“This is a question not of turf, it’s a question of life and death,” Nemes said.
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