Columbia voters will be asked to vote Nov. 6 on a referendum to approve a tax levy that will allow Columbia EMS to operate under the Columbia Fire Department rather than Monroe County EMS, with several benefits to residents of the CFD and Columbia EMS service area.
“It gives Columbia more of a say over emergency services,” Columbia City Administrator Jimmy Morani said.
For Columbia residents in Monroe County, this change will simply amount to a slight reduction in property taxes for at least the first year of the change.
But for St. Clair County residents in the Columbia fire and EMS service areas, they will have to begin paying the same tax their Monroe County counterparts have been paying all along for the same service.
“There are no plans to change the structure of the department,” Morani added. “The services and service area will be the same.”
Bringing Columbia EMS under the umbrella of the Columbia Fire Department will also insulate against privatization.
In spring 2016, the Monroe County Board, which controls Monroe County EMS and Columbia EMS, explored contracting with Community Health Systems, a subsidiary of Red Bud Regional Hospital, to take over operations of the ambulance services.
“This (referendum) will accomplish two things,” Morani said. “It will be fair and equitable and it will protect Columbia interests.
“It’s a better way, a more efficient way, a more responsible way to oversee our emergency services.”
In other Columbia news:
• A group of concerned city officials and residents including Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson, Morani, Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul and Columbia City Engineer Chris Smith, along with Columbia resident and Route 3 safety activist Tara Masidonski, met in Columbia with IDOT representative Joe Monroe on Monday. The group heard updates from Monroe and further discussed concerns about safety along the Route 3 corridor in the aftermath of the Sept. 2 fatality crash at Route 3 and Veterans Parkway allegedly caused by a vehicle running a red light — the second of 2018 at that intersection.
“There is a traffic study being conducted now (that is) complex and takes time. Our officials were able to help push this study through to begin with, as Columbia wasn’t as high on the list to have the study done immediately,” Masidonski said. “There is more to this (study) than just making changes and ‘seeing how they go.’ It takes time to thoroughly study ‘if they do this, then what will it do to that?’
“The proper decisions made in regards to the traffic study will take time, but they are moving forward.
“IDOT and our city have our safety as their number one priority,” Masidonski continued. “We all need to be patient and let the experts do their jobs. Our voices have already been heard loud and clear.”
• Construction is wrapping up along Main Street as the water main replacement project finally draws to a close. All that remains is to pave over the areas that were dug up for the project and complete a bit of site cleanup.