Editorial: Sturgis ambulance issue needs compromise

Remember the stare-down game you had with your brother as a kid?

Your eyes were locked on each other, and the one who blinked first lost the game.

Well, a version of that is playing out in Sturgis. Come Monday, we will know who blinks first. But there are no winners or losers in this game. Both sides lose because what is at stake is critical emergency medical service to areas outside the city limits of Sturgis.

The Sturgis Ambulance Service has served the area outside the Sturgis city limits and east into central Meade County for years. But on April 15, the Sturgis City Council voted to redraw the boundaries of its service response area leaving out the rural residents – some 4,000, effective July 15.

Residents of the city of Sturgis are additionally taxed for ambulance service, but those outside the city do not pay taxes specifically for the ambulance. 

Rural residents are quick to point out that they pay taxes to Sturgis when they shop in town. Well, so do Sturgis residents. The thing is, Sturgis residents also shoulder the burden of paying for ambulance service for themselves and the rest of the service area.

The city has taken the stance that anyone who is afforded the service should be paying for it. People in the affected rural areas voted down the formation of an ambulance tax district in December.

At the July 1 meeting of the Sturgis City Council, representatives for the group, calling themselves Citizens For Fair Emergency Services, asked the council to extend the deadline for redrawing its ambulance service boundaries until October of this year.

The council took no action, but Mayor Mark Carstensen sounded a bit more conciliatory than city officials have in the past, saying he thought the group’s work to find a solution was a “very large step in the right direction.”

His colleagues on the council weren’t as optimistic. And rightfully so. When an ultimatum is issued, and there is no follow-through, it weakens the position of the person in authority. You must follow through with the consequence so it’s not an empty threat. 

But in this case, the threat is a life and death consequence. What if there is a bad wreck on Highway 34 east of Sturgis? They say minutes can save lives. If the ambulance service area lines are redrawn and that is a non-coverage area, will anyone show up?

The council has said that if neighborhoods or regions want to petition the council and they have a plan to provide ongoing funding, then the council would look at that request to add rural residents back into the service area at a rate of $15 per person. 

This whole issue looms large with Sturgis set to host the 79th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in a few weeks when hundreds of thousands of visitors flood the area. 

We believe residents of the impacted area need to pay their fair share, but the city needs to hold off for a while on redrawing boundaries and continue discussions while providing critical ambulance service in the interim.

Black Hills Pioneer

Editorial board

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