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New England, Regent seek to combine ambulance districts

NEW ENGLAND -- Ambulances are often called upon to help people. But in Hettinger County, two ambulance services are asking for the people's help. Ambulance squad leaders in New England and Regent are seeking their communities' votes for a combine...

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Keith Hughes is the only paid employee for New England's ambulance services.New England and Regent are hoping to have 51% of the public vote in favor of an ambulance district on June 14. (Press Photo by Kalsey Stults)

NEW ENGLAND -- Ambulances are often called upon to help people. But in Hettinger County, two ambulance services are asking for the people’s help.

Ambulance squad leaders in New England and Regent are seeking their communities’ votes for a combined ambulance district during the June 14 election.

“I guess the biggest reason I am doing this for Regent is because the state department said there are seven to 10 ambulance services in the state that are real close to closing their doors,” said Terry Hartman, squad leader for the Regent Ambulance Service. “We don’t want to see that in our community, so that’s why we are trying to get other funding to stay alive.”

Combining New England and Regent’s ambulance districts should also help to better serve the communities in their service area, leaders say.

The New England Ambulance Service covers 692 square miles of western Hettinger County and parts of Stark and Slope counties with two ambulances. Regent covers 400 square miles with one.

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“We don’t receive any consistent kind of funding,” New England EMS squad leader Tom Zahn said. “We are a volunteer organization and we don’t receive any tax money like the fire departments. We’ve been surviving on grants. The issue is that the grant money is drying up.”  

The proposal will ask for residents to accept an increase in their taxes to offset the operation cost for the ambulance district of New England and Regent.

The measure seeks to increase the mill levy no more than 10 mills. If passed, a district board consisting of around five individuals would be created.

“We are only going to ask, budget wise, for what we need.” said Zahn.

The reason for the tax increase is to have a reliable form of revenue for the EMS and to employ professionals now and in the future.

Keith Hughes, is currently the only paid paramedic worker in New England and Regent, though his position is never guaranteed.

Hughes said, if the measure is passed, he plans to buy a home in New England since he will no longer have to worry about a consistent income.

New England has had a paramedic since 2008, Zahn said, though the position hasn't always been full time.

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“We’ve been doing that all off of grants,” Zahn said, “so they never knew year from year if they had a job or not.”

Zahn said the value the combined district would get from a paid employee is invaluable.

“Having an employee has worked,” he said. “It's been awesome for us.”

Having an experienced paramedic on staff not only provides a wealth of information, but Hughes is also available for work during a time when volunteers may be busy at work or on the farm. Zahn said some days, they may only have two or three volunteers who are free for calls between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

With the taxpayers help, the full-time paramedic’s salary would be covered and there could potentially be another hire once the district has been able to save money.

With tax money allocated, all of the grants and funding then received would go to improving the existing equipment and buildings they have.

“Right now, we are in the position to where if our ambulance broke down or something, as far as funding, we’d be in a world of hurt,” Hartman said. “Our funds would be pretty much depleted.”

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