TAWAS CITY – The Iosco County Board of Commissioners approved language for a new Iosco County EMS operating millage that will go on the Aug. 4 primary election for a decision by Iosco County voters.

The millage, which will be an increase from the service’s current .4431 mill operating millage, would be .600 mill, an increase of .1569 mill for a period of two years. Under the millage language the millage, if the full amount was levied by the county, would generate $708,000 the first year.

Vice Chairman Jay O’Farrell cast the motion to approve the language for the ballot and was seconded by Commissioner Charles Finley. The motion was approved unanimously with a 5-0 vote.

The millage comes after a request in late April by Iosco County EMS and Arenac/Iosco Mobile Medical Response Operations Manager Scott Kiernicki, who asked commissioners to approve millage language that would have effectively doubled the EMS operating millage to .800 mill. Part of the rationale behind such an increase was that the millage rate had not been increased since the 1990s, and that contract negotiations – which would undoubtedly include a pay increase for EMTs and paramedics – was about to be negotiated.

Kiernicki argued that the increase in pay was a necessity to keep the staffing with EMS, as staff were going to other agencies where they could get better pay.

O’Farrell and other commissioners argued that doubling the millage was too much for Iosco County residents, many of which were facing extreme financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kiernicki, Finley and the EMS union representative, were tasked with having a meeting and discussing alternatives to the doubled millage rate.

Before the vote, O’Farrell explained the rationale behind the new millage rate. 

“What we did is we looked at the finical situation of where we are because of COVID-19 – there is a possibility of things being worse,” O’Farrell said. “The original proposal would be a five-year proposal, it looked like it was doubling, what we did was we looked at it and we have basically cut that proposal in half.”

Dutcher said he believed that the .800 millage would have carried the county down the road further into the future, but said that because the county had to go for a county operating millage increase – which would be on the same ballot – he reluctantly agreed to having the .600 millage.

“I feel the .800 millage was going to be a better project for what our needs would be,” he said.

Before the vote, several members of the public gave comments concerning the millage rate increase. This was before the public knew that the increase would be .600 instead of .800. One public comment came from Oscoda resident Robert Taisor, who urged the commissioners to make their meeting packet available to the public ahead of the meeting.

I am supportive of the millage request, although I believe that there are many things that can be debated,” he said. He added that he was concerned that the millage rate increase had not been addressed before.

“I am concerned that the operating millage has not been increased, I find that remarkable considering the rate of inflation,” he said. “Now we come to the point where we are facing manpower shortages, now we have to wait for a doubling of the request.” 

Another public comment came from Brian Fisher, a representative for the United Steel Workers, who represents employees for Iosco County EMS. He said that he wanted to make it clear that the union was always available to discuss negotiations.

“From the tone of the article there was some sort of allegation that the union was unavailable during the process of addressing the wages,” he said. “All the local union officers work for Iosco County EMS and they are available anytime that the employers wants to speak with them.”

Another comment was from Plainfield Township Supervisor Fred Lewis, who said that EMS should look at other revenue sources coming in. He said that if you increase a millage it should increase the service, not just go toward salaries.

“The problem I have is if I look at your budget for the EMS, of the $3.3 million that it cost to run the program, 75 percent comes from charges for services,” he said. “As a business owner if I’m looking to raise revenue I’m going to look at increasing revenue in both, you’re looking at an 85 percent increase in taxes (this was under the assumption that the millage increase would be to .800, not .600 mill) you’re looking in our community, you’re looking at increasing the entire increase on the backs of our residents except the services.”

Lewis said the upshot of his comment was that EMS had to look at different ways to increase revenues instead of putting it on the backs of Iosco County residents.