KNOX COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Attempts by Knox County and the City of Vincennes to bolster EMS services in the area by potentially implementing a local public safety tax have been delayed, likely until 2022.
In early October, Knox County EMS voiced its concerns over funds and its desire to be subsidized through a public tax plan. Under Indiana state law, it is the duty of county commissioners to constantly provide emergency ambulance services to residents.
Knox County Commissioner Kellie Streeter has since spearheaded the effort to implement the tax. She said the county is already working with a tight budget and that this could be the only way to help strengthen EMS in the county.
“This is really the only way the state gives us the option to pay for certain services,” Streeter explained. “I want to make sure public safety is funded and funded appropriately and that we have a service that we can depend on.”
Plans to hold a public hearing on the tax were scheduled for late October by the Knox County Council, but have since been cancelled. According to County Commissioner T.J. Brink, the turnaround time on the tax being passed was just too short.
“That’s just not how good government works,” Brink said. “I’m glad that this has been delayed because we need public input for a tax to pass. You need city and county approval. That shouldn’t happen at the last second.”
Commissioners have proposed a 0.4 percent public safety local income tax. According to Indiana law, the tax must be passed by Oct. 31 to be effective in 2022.
Commissioner Trent Hinkle, like Brink, said that meeting this end of October deadline is no longer a possibility. However, he added that this delay is not deterring commissioner efforts.
“That does not mean it is dead,” he said. “It means that we will try again later. Whether that is next month or next year, we will continue trying.”
Hinkle added that Knox County residents have been lucky to avoid such a tax for this long.
“We have been very blessed in Knox County to not pay ambulance subsidies ever,” he said. “But emergency services are an absolute necessity.”
Commissioner Brink said that there are few things that he demands when making decisions for Knox County, but that quality ambulance services is one of them. Regarding next steps, Brink said there are several options for contracting ambulance services, and reiterated that the commissioners would not let the people of Knox County go without.
“I am not advocating one way or another for the tax, that is up to the county council,” Brink said. “What I will say is Knox County will fund and we will have an ambulance service one way or another. We will not leave the citizens hanging on this.”
As far as different options to Knox County’s current ambulance company, Brink listed several potential alternatives.
“We will find, whether it be a private entity that comes in and takes over, the hospital runs it, the county owns it,” Brink said. “Whatever that may be, the citizens will be taken care of.”
Brink added that whatever option is chosen for the ambulance services, there must be funding for it. Brink also said that this funding cannot be a one time thing, which is why Commissioner Streeter began looking into the public safety tax option in the first place.