POINT PLEASANT — Earlier this month, the Mason County Commission approved placing an EMS operating levy on the November ballot and appointed community members to a levy committee.
The official resolution the commissioners signed is to specifically support the continued operation of Mason County EMS – this is not to be confused with Mason County 911. The two are separate entities which are separately funded, and only Mason County 911 receives any sort of fees designated for that operation. Mason County EMS makes its money from billing Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance for services. Basically, Mason County EMS is at the mercy of insurance companies and, those agencies are operating differently than before, particularly when it comes to transporting dialysis patients which did bring in a significant amount of revenue.
The levy resolution also states the levy will generate $766,691 annually, which means it will raise a total of $3.8 million over the course of its five-year term. If passed, the levy would go into effect July 1, 2017 and expire on July 1, 2021. Though one doesn’t currently exist in Mason County, operating levies for EMS services are not uncommon in the surrounding areas. When considering an operating levy for Mason County EMS, commissioners looked at a similar levy in Jackson County for guidance, ultimately deciding on a smaller levy amount than Jackson County.
At least 60 percent of all votes cast will be needed to approve the levy. If the levy fails, the future of Mason County EMS is questionable and could possibly be gone. Though it’s also possible a private ambulance company could come into the county to take up the slack if the levy fails, these companies are “for profit” and if there’s no money to be made, it’s uncertain if these entities would stay. Also, this means there would be no local governmental body to hold a private company accountable for its decisions about patient care and transport. Also, according to the levy committee, if the levy fails, all ambulance service fees, both emergency and non-emergency, not covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and/or insurance, would be billed to the individual. This would include any co-pays or deductibles.
As for if the levy passes, it will enable the county to continue to provide 24-hour ambulance coverage and also, implement “zero-balance billing.” This means the ambulance service is first billed to Medicare, Medicaid and/or private insurance. The patient is not billed for anything not covered by Medicare, Medicaid and/or private insurance. This means a patient will have a “zero balance” and will owe nothing for services after any sort of payment by Medicare, Medicaid and/or or insurance, even if these entities only pay a portion of the bill for services. Federal law requires the county bill Medicare for ambulance services first and if the levy passes, a patient will not be required to pay a co-pay to the county for emergency ambulance services. This “zero-balance billing” is for emergency ambulance services only.
If passed, fees for non-emergency transports will continue to be charged. These fees help with funding the 24-hour a day coverage and discourages the misuse of the ambulance service.
A Mason County resident who currently pays no taxes under the Homestead Exemption Act, will not pay any additional taxes. If they currently pay some property taxes, they will pay the levy rate only on the assessed value of their property which exceeds the $20,000 exemption.
Though taxes will increase if the levy passes, both the levy committee and county commissioners have said, the current school bond levy expires so the increase will be less than a taxpayer’s excess school bond levy.
For example, according to the levy committee, if a taxpayer has property appraised at $80,000 and therefore that property is assessed at $48,000, the levy rate, which is .05 percent, brings the levy tax to $24 a year for that taxpayer. For those with $125,000 of appraised property, which is then assessed at $75,000, the amount of levy taxes for that individual would be $37.50 a year. For those with $50,000 of appraised property, that is then assessed at $30,000, the amount of levy taxes for that individual would be $15 per year.
Commissioners Tracy Doolittle, Rick Handey and Miles Epling unanimously voted for the resolution which will place the levy on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. Commissioners also voted to place the following on the levy committee: Phyllis Arthur, Glen Washington, Dylan Handley, Lisa Gangwer, Ashley Cossin, Bob Baird. These are all unpaid volunteers who will assist in answering the public’s questions about the levy and getting the word out about it.
To find out more on the levy, find it on Facebook by searching Mason County Emergency Ambulance Levy. Levy committee members answer both private messages and public questions about the levy on its Facebook page.
Reach Beth Sergent at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.