The Washington County Commissioners are set to vote on a new budget and tax rate Tuesday morning during their 9 o’clock meeting. How much that total budget will be is unknown, as County Judge John Durrenberger told us he “won’t know until we vote on it”. That sounds a lot like the US Congress, doesn’t it? What we know for sure is that our property taxes are going up by an amount that will bring in an additional $1.6 million in revenue, a 7.22 percent increase in revenue for the County over last year. We also know that the most recent budget total made public is more than $44.5 million. That’s almost $4.3 million dollars more than this past year, a 10.7 percent increase!
So, what is prompting this huge budget and tax increase? Could it possibly be from the ever-growing deficit of the Washington County EMS Department? A recent independent audit revealed that the EMS fund balance had a $1.7 million deficit at the end of 2022. The auditor said that over a half million dollars of that loss occurred in 2022 due to “an increase in expenditures over budgeted transfers from the general fund.” In layman’s terms, the EMS Department spent more than their budget.
We know that a large portion of that deficit is coming from the new Air Ambulance program that the County is funding completely. Yes, I know we’ve been told many different things by the County Judge and Commissioners…everything from “it won’t cost County residents a thing”, to “it will only cost county residents about $3 per year”. But now the story has changed, as Commissioner Kirk Hanath said “It’s not designed to make money. It’s designed to save lives.” Hanath continued saying “We understand that in an $8 million (EMS) budget, putting $1.7 million dollars of taxpayer money into it is not necessarily a loss for this community, it’s a gain!” Hanath also said that the deficit would be addressed in the budget. That part he got right…as tax revenue is going up over 7 percent, bringing in an additional $1.6 million in revenue. Hmmm, that’s almost the same amount as the EMS Department deficit.
I’ll be the first to say that I want the option of an air ambulance transport if I ever need it. But I’m tired of not being told the real story about this program’s cost. In 2022 EMS Director Kevin Deramus projected the program to make a profit of $300,000. And in the worst-case scenario, he said it might cost the County $250,000 a year. But Deramus said “I think it’s worth it.” Since then, all we have heard is excuses about insurance companies not wanting to pay. Big surprise there. What Washington County citizens deserve is to be told the “real story”, about the EMS Department and the entire County Budget.
And that’s the way it looks to this Spectator.