As many as a quarter of all calls made to the Siloam Springs Fire Department come from northeast Oklahoma. The resulting operating expenses to the city average approximately $500,000 each year.
Now Siloam Springs is turning to Oklahoma elected officials to find a way to recover expenses. December 31, 2008 has been established as the deadline for Oklahoma to establish funding to pay for Fire and Emergency Medical Services from the City of Siloam Springs.
The Siloam Springs Board of Directors approved an ordinance Tuesday that will discontinue service to Oklahoma unless funding is provided by the deadline.
For many years the City of Siloam Springs has provided fire and EMS service to portions of Adair and Delaware Counties in Oklahoma. Siloam Springs leaders say after discussing funding issues many times since 2001 with Oklahoma officials, it’s now time to find a way to get compensated for services rendered.
Siloam Springs spends roughly a quarter of the fire department budget each year to serve the area and receives no reimbursement from the state of Oklahoma or Adair or Delaware County, City Administrator David Cameron said.
Siloam Springs Fire Chief Jimmy Harris said ninety percent of the calls from Oklahoma require EMS service, while ten percent of the calls are fire related. Harris said currently no charges are billed to property owners for fire calls, and that ambulance calls are billed to the patient that receives transportation or assistance.
An extremely low percentage of the invoices are actually paid, Harris said. What funds they do receive generally come from insurance companies.
Beyond the cost of responding to calls and the low percentage of paid invoices, many other costs are incurred by the city in order to provide fire and EMS services to Oklahoma. Harris said the substantial cost of infrastructure and the ever-increasing operating costs that are involved with day-to-day operations of the fire department are important to consider as well.
The department must also allocate the manpower and resources necessary to provide twenty-four hour-a-day licensed services to Siloam Springs and Oklahoma, and ultimately that is very expensive, Harris said.
Options that could provide funding include an allocation of state or county funds or a millage.
Oklahoma leaders could also choose to form EMS and fire districts that would collect taxes to provide funds that could be used to create their own services or to contract the services from other providers. A bill legislating funding is also under consideration for presentation during the next Oklahoma legislative session in January 2008.
“There has to be a time when Oklahomans realize that they must pay to receive this service from us,” Siloam Springs Mayor M.L.Van Poucke, Jr. said.
Cameron and Van Poucke said they have additional concerns about the legality of using the City’s public funds over state lines.
“There is a legal question regarding us legally subsidizing service to Oklahoma without reimbursement,” Cameron said.
“When it comes down to it, we want to do the right thing. We want it all to be covered. But we are being stuck with paying for it,” Van Poucke said. “We know we need to provide service over the state line, but we need them to pay for it.”
Future meetings to discuss funding plans are scheduled for December and additional meetings will take place in 2008. Siloam Springs leaders are optimistic that Okahoma can present a formal funding plan to the citizens of Adair and Delaware Counties before the deadline.