VIENNA — At a Feb. 15 meeting, members of the Maries-Osage Ambulance District (MOAD) board received information about possibly annexing parts of the area around Meta that the volunteer service …
VIENNA — At a Feb. 15 meeting, members of the Maries-Osage Ambulance District (MOAD) board received information about possibly annexing parts of the area around Meta that the volunteer service COMM-Unity Ambulance covers. Last December, COMM-Unity Ambulance sent a letter to the Maries County commissioners to inform them that the service would end operation at the end of June.
Monte Olsen, an adjunct professor with the University of Missouri’s Fire and Rescue Training Institute and the executive director of the National Association of Emergency and Fire Officials, called into the meeting. He explained the process of adding the area and possible outcomes of the process to the MOAD board.
Olsen described the process as a “fork in the road.” On one side, MOAD and Osage Ambulance District could expand their borders to cover the area that COMM-Unity Ambulance serviced. On the other side, the state emergency medical services (EMS) bureau could intervene to find coverage for the area. In either case.
The annexation process has several steps. First, either 10 percent of registered voters in the affected area or 50 voters, whichever is fewer, must petition the commission of the county or counties they wish to annex them into the ambulance district. If the voters do not file a petition, no ambulance district would be legally obligated to cover the area unless the state intervened.
“The question is if you have a heart attack today, do you want someone that you know is going to come or do you want, depending on what’s going on, someone who will come to you eventually, but it may be a really long time,” Olsen said.
Once voters would file a petition, the county commissioners would hold a public hearing as soon as possible to discuss the annexation. If the language on the petition meets all necessary legal criteria, the commissioners would then put it on a ballot for the people in the affected area. If voters approve the ballot measure, the ambulance district would annex the area.
Olsen said that to receive tax support as soon as possible from the people who live in the potentially annexed area, the issue would need to appear on the ballot during the August 8 election. The certification of those results would happen before the assessor’s office finalized tax bills.
Delaying the issue to a later ballot would mean the district would not receive tax revenue from the new area until possibly 2026. After June 30, the area will also lack reliable ambulance coverage until a district annexes it.
May 30 is the deadline for the commissioners to order an August election. Olsen said that the deadline is closer than it appears.
“That sounds like a little way away,” Olsen said. “But that’s three months. You have to get your legal description together of what that new area would be described as. You have to get your 10 percent or 50 votes. And you have to get the commissioners. They have to advertise in the paper for a week or so at a time. Then you have to have that hearing.”
There are no major elections scheduled for August, so if the issue made it onto the ballot, it would likely be the only item. MOAD board members expressed concerns about cost and who would be responsible for payment. Olsen was unsure because the statute does not specify who pays the cost. He said the cost could be MOAD’s responsibility.
“My guess is you’re going to get the bill,” he said.
As a way to prevent sunk costs for the election, Olsen suggested MOAD board members ask around the COMM-Unity Ambulance service area to find out if voters would support the annexation.
Board member Victor Stratman asked if the only people to vote on the issue would be those who were part of the COMM-Unity Ambulance service area. Olsen said that was correct.
Board vice-president Steve Maxwell asked Olsen what county commissioners would need to receive the petition because the service area includes parts of multiple counties.
Olsen said that the law was not clear on which county would need to receive the petition. He said in similar instances, the county that previously handled the service area would get the petition. Geographical size also helps with the decision.
“If 80 percent of your district is in one county and 20 percent in another county, usually on other things when the law does specify one or the other, usually it’s the county with the greater land area,” he said.
Olsen said an attorney would be the best guide in determining which county to petition.
Board member Laura Stratman said MOAD and Osage Ambulance District expect to split coverage of the Maries County and Osage County sections of the area at Volmert Lane. She asked if the process must occur separately for both districts.
Olsen said it would need to happen separately on paper, but it might work best for each affected county to run the ballots at the same time rather than one county voting in August and another in November.
Laura Stratman asked what would happen if the vote passed in one county and failed in the other.
Olsen said whether the measure passed would depend on the combined vote totals.
If the annexation happened, the county commissioners may need to reapportion the district boundaries to ensure equal representation throughout the ambulance district.
Olsen said that the EMS bureau is likely to approve of annexation if a vote passes, but there is always a chance they could want a different solution to finding coverage in the COMM-Unity Ambulance service area.
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