EMS, budget spin-offs top county talks
by John Hales
The Times-Independent
Feb 01, 2018 | 3062 views | 0 0 comments | 72 72 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Will Barnhardt, acting director of Grand County Emergency Medical Services, addresses the Grand County Council on Tuesday, Jan. 30.     
                        Photo by John Hales
Will Barnhardt, acting director of Grand County Emergency Medical Services, addresses the Grand County Council on Tuesday, Jan. 30. Photo by John Hales
County moves to create panel for budget preparation

There was almost no public input regarding the creation of an advisory board that would assist the Grand County Council in preparing annual budgets in the future.

Only one person, other than council members, spoke on the issue — and that was merely to ask for a summary of what the draft resolution would do.

Council Member Curtis Wells answered the question, saying the goal of the proposal was to, “make the budget process more inclusive, [and] give department heads more opportunity to give input.”

Or, in the words of the resolution itself, which Wells drafted, “An informative, transparent, and collaborative tentative budget process ... is essential to provide quality services to the citizens of Grand County and to maintain and enhance economic efficiency of Grand County resources.”

The resolution would create a seven-member budget advisory board, which would essentially do the heavy lifting of preparing each year’s county budget to be approved by the council.

“A budget advisory board providing fiscal analysis and planning to the Grand County Council in an advisory capacity will enhance and vastly improve the financial decision making process for Grand County,” the resolution states.

The council is ultimately responsible for the budget and would remain the statutory-bound authority for adopting it from year to year. But the means by which the budget can be prepared is flexible. Until now, that function has been filled by the Grand County Clerk/Auditor, who has been the council’s appointed budget officer. While the Clerk/Auditor is an elected position, the council appoints the role of budget officer. In many locales, a county’s auditor also serves as its budget officer.

But, Wells said, other counties have had success in using advisory boards such as the one he is proposing.

The new board would consist of the Clerk/Auditor as a permanent position, one other non-council elected county official, two county council members, one non-elected department head, the council’s designated budget officer and, “any other registered Grand County voter with a demonstrated interest in, or professional knowledge of budgeting and finance,” the resolution states.

In addition to preparing the tentative budget, the board would review the county’s fiscal policies and procedures, advising the council if those policies were in line with the council’s goals and priorities; and advise the council on other financial statements and audit reports, and in the selection of certified public accountants who would perform such audits, which are required by state law.

But the board would also begin another system of internal auditing of county departments. After its first year of being established, the board would review the “internal control environments” of at least two county departments each year, and create a schedule to ensure that each department was being reviewed at least once every eight years.

The designated budget officer would be the lead liaison between the board and the council.

“This is kind of a growth and an evolution to expand the conversation and bring sharp minds to the table and enhance the quality of our budgeting process,” Wells said.

Though no one else spoke in favor of or opposed to the measure, a public comment period will remain open until Monday, Feb. 5, at 5 p.m. According to Grand County Administrator Ruth Dillon, written comments may be submitted in person to her office, or by email at council@grandcounty.net.

February 6 hearing to mull EMS district

A more focused approach to managing the county’s emergency medical services department is the goal of a proposal to create a special service district for EMS.

That proposal will be the subject of a public hearing hosted by the Grand County Council on Feb. 6. The resolution under consideration would create district boundaries and a board of directors for EMS, making it a separate entity from the county, rather than one of its departments.

Currently, the council has administrative authority and oversight for EMS.

“The county council does a wonderful job, but they’re splitting their attention between 17 different departments,” William Barnhardt, the acting director of EMS, said on Friday, Jan 26. Barnhardt has been serving as acting director while director Andy Smith is on administrative leave, according to county human resources director John West. While the county responded to a request from The Times-Independent for confirmation regarding Smith’s leave status as of Wednesday, Jan. 31, no reason was given except to say an “investigation” was underway.

As important as it is to give time, energy and resources (i.e., dollars) to the county’s ambulance technicians and equipment and facilities, “It’s very easy for that to get derailed” with so many other things to worry about, Barnhardt said, adding that each of those issues can lay its own priority claim on the council’s attention. “It’s very easy to get overlooked when you’re dealing with a street that just got washed out.”

According to a document detailing the plan, the county would roll the current EMS Department into the “Grand County Emergency Medical Services Special Service District.” The boundaries of the district would encompass all of Grand County, though having a district, rather than a county department, “gives us the ability to change boundaries a little more easily,” Barnhardt said.

For instance, Grand County’s EMS is called out occasionally to Green River, and more frequently into San Juan County. The district could one day be expanded, hypothetically, to include those areas, though Barnhardt added there were no active discussions to that end.

Funding for the special service district would come through much the same channels as it does now — transient room tax revenues, healthcare sales and use taxes, and fees for services.

Barnhardt spoke to The Times-Independent, and offered assurances that even though special service districts are generally created as taxing entities, the EMS district will explicitly not be given that authority. “That’s a fair concern,” Barnhardt said. “I’d hate that as much as everyone else.”

Both Barnhardt and, at a meeting Tuesday, council administrator Ruth Dillon, said the final wording of the resolution will be clear on that point.

“We have no desire to impose new taxes,” Barnhardt said.

“What we really want to do is have an engaged board that is able to address the specific needs of EMS,” he said.

With a special service district, Barnhardt indicated, EMS issues could be addressed quickly, rather than being put off to make budgetary room for other things; there won’t be elected officials asking, “Can we make this limp along another year?” Barnhardt stated.

That said, he added that the drive to create the district “is not us saying, ‘Hey, we’re frustrated and we want to do our own thing.’”

Rather, he said, “Our number one concern is what can we do to meet the needs of our citizens. Our job is to take care of our community. More directed focus and better oversight ... we believe that will allow us to perform our mission better.”

The Feb. 6 public hearing will be at 6 p.m. or shortly thereafter. Written, signed comments can be submitted to the Grand County Clerk’s Office following the public hearing until April 10 at 5 p.m.

A high cost ahead for new EMS building
At $7.3M, finding funding could be quite difficult

Grand County’s Emergency Service Department directors thought they were far enough along on plans for a hoped-for new building that they could approach one of the biggest sources of capital-project funding by today.

Mainly because of increased cost estimates, they’ll have to wait longer, Emergency Medical Services Acting Director William Barnhardt said on Monday.

“We’re pushing it to June 1,” he told members of the Grand County Council, referring to an application EMS intends to submit to the Community Impact Board.

The building has been on the EMS’s wish list for quite a while, “decades,” said Grand County Administrator Ruth Dillon, who assisted Barnhardt in updating the council on the status of the project.

“The EMS facility has been a long, long need,” Dillon said. Facilities are currently spread across different sites and buildings, rather than centrally located. In one of those locations, she said, sometimes the EMS pagers can’t receive signals because of interference from communication towers in the same building.

“We have significant issues,” she said.

But getting a new building has run into issues of its own.

There is only a tentative agreement on a location for a new EMS building — near Canyonlands Care Center — and building it there would require a cooperative agreement among several entities, and perhaps a land-swap deal between Moab Regional Hospital and the Canyonlands Health Care Special Service District that would enable the district to donate the property.

Then there is the cost of construction.

“Costs were higher than anticipated initially,” Barnhardt said, because those first estimates were made even before any construction site-plans or architectural blueprints were available, not to mention the fact that they are years old and construction costs, he said, had risen an average of five percent a year for the last decade.

When an EMS building was first put on the radar for CIB funding, the estimate was about $4.1 million.

“We’re now at $7.3 million for this project ... and this is bare bones, it really is a bare-bones project,” Dillon said.

Barnhardt agreed. “There’s nothing more I can cut from this building.”

That cost means the county — or the new EMS Special Service District, if it is created before funding applications are submitted — won’t be able to rely solely on help from the CIB, which has a $5-million funding limit.

“We’re looking at a mix of grants from other sources,” Barnhardt said.

On the positive side, Dillon indicated the CIB might look favorably on the proposed EMS building when it does finally receive an application to fund it. She said the building was a priority on the CIB list for the county, “number one behind the [Canyonlands] airport.”

As a practical matter, Dillon said, “What this means to the county council … is basically support and making sure funding happens.”

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