KBHB Overnight Music Vault
12:00am - 5:00am
Closings, Cancellations and Delays

No public vote on emergency services funding in Meade County

By F.Ganje - February 5, 2018

STURGIS, SD – Efforts to find the ways to fund fire and ambulance services in the greater Sturgis area continues to be the focus of discussions. Among the issues are past and current agreements between the City of Sturgis and the Meade County Commission for ambulance services and a perceived lack of support from the Commission to help fund fire and ambulance services.

Commissioner Galen Niederwerder says he wants to be clear the commission is not advocating for either a partial or county-wide tax district to pay for fire and ambulance services.  “Whatever the people want to do – and how they will pay for it – we will help them do that.  By statute, we are mandated to serve as the pass through entity for matters such as this. But the call to form any type of district is not coming down from the county commission.”

He went on to explain what roles the county does play in funding firefighting. “We do fund fire departments.  We contribute around $20,000 annually  to the Rural Firefighters Association that in turn,  distributes those funds.  We also pay workman’s compensation fees for all fire and ambulance service volunteers – that’s 381 individuals in Meade County. “

In more discussion, Niederwerder explained that the Sturgis Volunteer Fire Department is not run by the city.  It is a stand-alone, volunteer department.  And that the single request  he recalls for funding by the fire department to the commission was denied for a reason.  “The only request I can recall the Sturgis Volunteer Fire Department making to the Commission was in 2013-2014 to fund $20,000 towards the purchase of a new fire truck.” 

He continued, “As is the process for any non-mandated request for funding,  financial statements from those making the request, are required.  The Sturgis Volunteer Fire Department refused to provide that information and the request for funding was denied.”

Of concern to Niederwerder is the claim the county commission owes the City of Sturgis $300,000 representing a contractual agreement between the two entities for ambulance services.  The City of Sturgis owns and manages the ambulance service. 

As background, there has been a contractual agreement of one kind or another  between the city and county going back as far as 1988, according to Niederwerder.  From 2001 to 2013, it was covered under a FHARES (Fire Hazmat Ambulance Rescue Emergency Services) agreement. That agreement was dissolved by the City in 2013.

In that same year, a new agreement was struck between the two entities. As part of the agreement, there would be no charge from the city to the county for the ambulance transport of prisoners from the county jail – a major consideration for the commission, says Niederwerder.  And it also states that the county would  reimburse one-half of any budget  shortfall  to the city.

As the years passed, the City did present an annual report to the County but never presented an oral request or written invoice for payment of any shortfall, according to Niederwerder. “The city’s position that the county owes $300,000 creates the misperception the county doesn’t pay its bills. We never got one. Had we received one, we would have either negotiated it and/or paid it, and then dissolved the agreement.”

The anticipated move to dissolve is primarily because the Sheriff, with the County’s authorization, entered into a separate agreement with the City in 2015 to provide prisoner transport and medication dispensing at the jail at a cost of $70,000 annually.  With that service covered, Niederwerder feels there would be no reason to continue with the 2013 agreement.

Niederwerder says that when representatives of the City of Sturgis met with the county commission in April 2017 to ask the commission to form a county-wide tax district for fire and ambulance services, it was made clear the commission felt there was no support for it. The commission did share with the city the option available to them in forming its own district. And that by statute, the county approves the boundaries of any such district and allows the election to be held. Beyond that, it doesn't have a role.

In another KBHB news report filed January 31, 2018, supporters of the fire and ambulance districts to serve Sturgis and surrounding areas of Meade County failed to garner enough signatures to bring the issue to the April municipal ballot.

According to city manager Daniel Ainslie, the city’s ambulance service is losing approximately $82,000 annually and that as of November 30, 2017, deficit spending in the ambulance budget had reached $640,051.

In the news report, it’s noted Sturgis city leaders are hoping the county will help. They plan to talk to the county soon about a possible plan to fund half of the cost, according to Ainslie.   "We hope it doesn't come down to a council decision as to whether or not we continue funding these services for about 20-percent of Meade County who live outside city limits.  And, right now we know there's an agreement in place where the county may help with half of it, so we will be meeting with the county down the road to discuss that."

Phone number: 605-347-4455
E-mail: [email protected]
Address: 1612 Junction Avenue, Suite #1
Sturgis, SD 57785