If Ellis County voters this spring don’t pass two proposed quarter-cent countywide sales taxes, it will mean a reduction in services, according to Jason Kennedy, director of the county’s emergency services and the health department.
“None of us want that to happen,” said Kennedy, speaking to a handful of Ellis County residents who showed up on Ash Wednesday evening at the Hays VFW Post 9076, 2106 Vine, for a county-sponsored educational session on the sales taxes.
EMS had a $3.1 million budget in 2019, and recouped $1.1 million of that, Kennedy said.
“What would a reduction in service look like?” he asked.
For starters, every Ellis County ambulance now has at least one paramedic on it, with average response time of 4.5 minutes, or even shorter in Hays. The nationwide average is 8 minutes, although some urban areas have 30-minute wait times.
“We are able to start the care that you would get at a hospital, we’re pretty well able to start it at your doorstep,” Kennedy said.
“For every minute you are in cardiac arrest, you reduce your chances of out-of-hospital neurological intact survival,” he said. “Nobody wants to come back and be brain dead, right?”
There’s a 10% reduction for every minute a person is in cardiac arrest, Kennedy said, so at 4.5 minutes, it’s down to 55%.
Eight minutes is even worse.
“We’ve now reduced your chances of survival the minute we show up at your doorstep, to only 20%,” Kennedy said. “And it only gets worse from there. So those response times are important. That high level of service is important. We have a paramedic on every truck. What that means is we’re able to intervene the minute we get there.”
While other first responders in the community do a great job, Kennedy said, they are limited by law in what they can do. Paramedics can do a little bit of everything, from giving first-line cardiac medications, giving electrical shock to stun the heart to restart it correctly, putting a breathing tube down a patient’s throat, giving breathing treatments, and giving a whole laundry list of medications, he said.
That starts and continues through transport to HaysMed, or even Kansas City, Wichita, Dallas or Denver.
“We bought you that time to get to where you need to be,” he said.
EMS is also on standby at community events, such as high school football games.
That level of service, on the average $170,000 home in Ellis County, costs each household $79 annually in their property taxes, or $68 each person, he said.
“It’s an insurance policy,” Kennedy said. “It says we’ll be at your door 24-7 in less than 4.5 minutes able to treat you, able to care for you, able to stabilize you, and able to transport you.”
Ellis County is planning an April mail ballot to ask voters about two different sales taxes. One question seeks a quarter-cent tax for health services, with all the proceeds going to Ellis County’s EMS and Health Department.
A second question will seek a quarter-cent general sales tax, which by law must be shared proportionally with Hays, Ellis, Victoria and Schoenchen. Voters can vote yes or no on any or all of the questions. If both are approved, it would add a half-cent tax on each dollar spent.
With a sunset provision of 10 years, the sales tax would raise about $2.2 million annually to ease Ellis County’s ongoing severe budget crunch.
Ellis County Commissioners have held town halls throughout the county last week to answer voters’ questions on the sales taxes. Wednesday’s was the first in Hays, but others are planned in coming weeks.
The Ellis County Commission the past two years cut more than $2 million out of the county budget, a 10% reduction, said interim county administrator Darin Myers, also speaking at the public meeting.
Currently, Ellis County doesn’t have a sales tax. About 70% of the county’s funding is from property taxes, real estate taxes and oil and gas revenues. A small portion comes from a wind farm, and Emergency Services and other fees.
With a half-cent sales tax, Myers said the tax on a $10 sandwich would be a nickel, 50 cents on $100, and $2.5 on a new dishwasher purchase.
“The retail pull factor of Ellis County is 1.66,” Myers said, meaning 66% of existing sales tax receipts come from people traveling to Ellis County and spending money at shops, stores, businesses and restaurants.
“Ellis County has one of the largest pull factors in the state,” he said. “We are that main central shopping hub for all the different counties.”
With a quarter-cent sales tax, Ellis County Health Services will get $1.55 million in revenue, based on 2017 numbers.
The second quarter-cent would net the county a 42% share, or $650,000.
“Of that $2.2 million, roughly $1.5 million would be coming from outside Ellis County. People traveling in, staying, shopping, sleeping, eating, playing, whatever it may be,” Myers said. “Lessening the burden on Ellis County taxpayers.”
Other counties and cities in Kansas already have sales taxes, many of them 1%.
“Even if both sales taxes pass, there’s not enough money to increase expenditures and start spending crazily,” Myers said. “If these both pass, your mill levies would not decrease on your average home, your mill levies would stay the same.”