Commissioners Jarman, Olsen, and Cardinale:
When the Citizens Advisory Group recommended the integration of SJI Emergency Medical Service (EMS) into Fire District #3 (Fire) last April I supported the idea. Recently I have become skeptical about its chances in our community. An interlocal agreement introduced by the Public Hospital District #1 (PHD) has become a major distraction. The agreement was approved earlier this month by three of the five sitting PHD commissioners (two PHD commissioners opposed it) and Fire is now considering it.
I join the many in our community who say now is not the time in the integration process for this agreement. It is premature. Focus on the tasks that are essential to integration.
First, construct a 3-year combined budget for the two agencies that accounts for the different revenue streams of each agency. Fire depends on a predictable voter-approved property tax levy. EMS depends upon less predictable federal, state, and private insurance reimbursement along with a voter-approved property tax levy. Voters want to understand the longer term financial outook of an integrated agency. So far we have heard nothing about this.
At the same time, build Fire's public information infrastructure. Currently, Fire seems not to publish regularly scheduled meeting notices, agendas, minutes, or documents relevant to its status as a publicly funded organization. Your web site is inactive. That is inexcusable for a public agency spending taxpayer dollars. If you were to take over EMS without this public information base, you would subject yourselves to the same transparency issues that have plagued the PHD for at least five years and that will affect voter support of the levy actions you will need going forward.
We know that Fire responds to roughly 300 island calls per year, EMS to roughly 1,100. Fire is about saving property and responding to other types of emergencies, EMS is about delivering health care to individuals. How will you manage this new, larger, more complex organization?
These are some of the concerns voters have about integration. As you build the new organization, consider a public town hall forum where voters have the opportunity to explore the issues of integration with those most involved. Better informed voters are more likely to vote “Yes”.
At the most recent Fire commissioners meeting, Commissioner Olsen, referring to the interlocal agreement, advised the audience, including three of the incoming PHD commissioners, not to “make a mountain out of a molehill”. In truth, integration IS a mountain for this community. If you do not set aside the agreement, you will have created another negative public relations issue and that will be akin to falling off the mountain. If you set it aside and get on with the real work, integration stands a much better chance of succeeding.
(I have made my home on San Juan Island since 1998. I served as a County Planning Commissioner from 2003 through 2013, followed EMS closely since their two levy failures in 2014, and served as Chair of the 2016 Levy Budget Committee.)