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Officials seek emergency response funding in county budget

Officials seek emergency response funding in county budget

December 5th, 2018 by Jeff Haldiman in Local News

Cole County Emergency Medical Service ambulance

Photo by News Tribune 2016 file photo

Requests for equipment to improve emergency response efforts in Cole County were presented Tuesday to Cole County commissioners who are working on the 2019 budget.

Many office holders and department heads had earlier told commissioners they had no problems with the proposed budget.

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Last month, Cole County Auditor Kristen Berhorst had submitted a proposed budget that was nearly $5 million more than the 2018 budget. The $88.4 million proposed 2019 budget includes money carried forward from 2018. The 2018 budget was $83.6 million.

On Tuesday, Bill Farr, director of Cole County Emergency Management, told the commissioners he and the fire chiefs from the four fire protection districts want to erect a new tower to complete improvements to the fire district's radio system.

Farr and Regional West Fire Protection District Chief Jack Brade told commissioners the improvements began in 2010 when the county helped pay part of a $44,679 program that brought in two new towers and new radios.

The towers are used by the county ambulance service, as well as by the sheriff's department when its radio system is down.

The proposed 100-foot tower would be located in St. Martins behind the new Regional West station off Business 50. Farr and Brade said the tower will improve the system's coverage on the western side of the county.

The total cost for the tower is $75,000; the four districts and the county would each pay a fifth of the cost ($15,000.) The districts are also asking the county to pay for one year of maintenance on the system, which figures to be $16,000.

In other action, Cole County EMS Chief Matt Lindewirth noted there is $470,000 in the proposed budget for two ambulances for the service. He said the department, which is fully staffed with 58 full-time employees, is scheduled to get a salary increase under the proposed budget. He said they were compiling lists of EMTs and paramedics who would be considered for future openings at the department.

The ambulance service and Cole County Sheriff's Department got salary increases earlier this year, and those will be included in the 2019 budget.

Sheriff John Wheeler said he had no concerns with the proposed budget. Among the capital items in the sheriff's budget is $250,000 for six-eight vehicles, $15,000 for Tasers and $45,000 for body cameras. Wheeler said they would be phasing out their current cameras with the patrol and civil service divisions getting new ones first and then having the jailers also wear them for added recording capability in the jail pods.

Lindewirth and Wheeler said they would be looking to get new radio equipment for their vehicles, hopefully getting funding for them through grants. If grants were unavailable, they said they probably would come back to the commission for funding this year or next year.

Outgoing prosecutor Mark Richardson said he had no issues with the proposed budget, and incoming prosecutor Locke Thompson said, overall, he saw no problems. But Thompson said more money was needed for assistant prosecutors. He told commissioners he had talked with two attorneys who told him they would come on board, but the salaries would have to be increased.

Currently, the highest paid assistant prosecutor makes $74,000. Thompson said a top attorney would have to be paid $80,000. For someone coming out of law school, he said a salary would probably be around $50,000. Thompson said he was not sure how many of the current office staff would be staying once he takes control of the office in January.

The commission plans to hold budget meetings this week and possibly more next week. Final approval of the budget by the commission must be given by Jan. 10.