SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska



Move the Capital or save a life?
By David Hull


April 02, 2006

I know this is long, but please bear with it.

I have read the remarks regarding relocating the capital filtering out of Juneau. This is not a new story nor will this be the final chapter I see. I thought the citizens of this state saw the moving of the capital as a gross misuse of state funds and voted thusly. Apparently some do not believe in the collective wisdom of the voters. Why are we here again? There are so many more important things to spend this great state s money on than moving the capital. Take Public Safety for example. Move the Capital or Save a life? Should there be a question?

Public safety should be at the top of everyone's mind, Police protection, Fire protection and Emergency Medical Services. Why are the legislators allowing the basic infrastructure of safety in this state to crumble from lack of monetary support? The Troopers have been under funded for along time and it doesn't look much better this year. Under them, the Fire Standards Council, a group of dedicated fire chiefs in the state, were formed by legislative action a few years ago and yet not funded for a mere $260,000 even though the insurance companies in the state are taxed million dollars a year to operate. Also under the Troopers, Fire Service Training and Fire Prevention have suffered under a repressive funding effort even though Alaska is a national leader in fire deaths, injures and dollar loss due to the destructive nature of fire. The state EMS regions have gone flat funded for 15 years. 15 years!

Yes, flat funding is not a cut we are told, but how much is a dollar worth now compared to 15 years ago? Flat funding is a cut no matter how you look at it. The Grants to the EMS Regional offices had a 20% funding increase in the Governor s budget when this whole process started. By the time the budget was presented, the grant increase was cut. A Senate subcommittee looking at the Department of Health and Social Services saw the importance of funding EMS and put the cuts back in. Now a different subcommittee has cut the grants yet again. Why? Is $455,700 too much to spend on the safety for Alaskan citizens? What about our visitors?

The state wants tourism to thrive, but whom do they expect to respond to the emergencies their dollars bring? The local emergency response agencies are almost all volunteer. Volunteer! The EMS regional offices have the responsibility of training these very agencies that respond to the requests of help from locals and tourists alike. Who will fund this training? The local community? Who will deliver the training? The State's tourism efforts, while a great thing no doubt, have had the effect of another unfunded mandate upon the local communities by apparently expecting them to come up with the necessary funding on their own for emergency response. Is this fair?

Did you know that these same EMS Regional offices have for the past 4 years leveraged hundreds of thousands of appropriated state money into millions and millions of dollars of grant money to fund training and equipment for these agencies? This money CANNOT be used to support the day-to-day operations of the Regional offices. Only the legislature can support this. The Regions even supplement state funding by generating 20% to 30% of additional project income on their own. This system of funding regions to accomplish statewide goals has proven an efficient and effective way of utilizing public funds.

Apparently it is perceived that the EMS offices have been so adapt at doing extraordinary things with next to nothing that they can continue on that path. What kind of support is this? Do an incredible job for the citizens of the State and yet be slowly bled dry of funds by the ravages of flat funding? What would happen if the legislators ran a private business like this? The simple fact is that the EMS Regions cannot continue to conduct business in this fashion.

What would happen if the phones just quit? Right now! What would you do? Where would you go for help and, for that matter, how much would you be willing to spend to continue that service? Now think about dialing 911 and being told your local response agency had to close due to lack of support for training, equipment, insurance for the ambulance and supplies. You look around at your loved one you are making the call for. How much would you be willing to spend now? Native leaders take notice and think about this.

The majority of the urban and rural Alaska communities served by the Regional EMS offices have a high population of Alaskan Natives. Have you expressed your distress in this funding imbalance? You should! Loud and Forcefully! Your emergency response agencies will be negatively impacted by these cuts and that trickles down to the residents that depend upon them. Did you even know this problem existed? What is going on?

The House passed their budget with the 20% increment of $455,700 in there - $352,000 into a line item called "Emergency Medical Services" (the line that funds grants to Interior, Southern, Southeast and North Slope.) There is also $103,700 added into a line called Community Health/Emergency Medical Services, which is intended for the other 3 regions. Together, these regions and their staff form the backbone of EMS in Alaska. They are the reason the system functions so well. That was the good news.

The bad news is that the Senate HSS Finance Subcommittee that has closed out their work on March 31st has NOT added the incremental grants; they cut them all--again. People who have spoken with staff of that committee tell me that they will not be adding it back in. This means it will now take the action of the full Senate Finance Committee to get it added back, this in spite of the fact that an earlier House subcommittee had reinstated them.

Please contact the below listed legislatures now by Email and Monday by phone to express your concern with this huge funding inadequacy.

Contacts are:

Senate Finance Committee members are:

CO-CHAIR: Senator Green
State Capitol, Room 516
Juneau, AK 99801-1182
fax: 907-465-3805

CO-CHAIR: Senator Wilken (Senator Wilken is in charge of the Operating
State Capitol, Room 518
Juneau, AK 99801-1182
fax: 907-465-4714

VICE-CHAIR: Senator Bunde
State Capitol, Room 506
Juneau, AK 99801-1182
fax: 907-465-3871

MEMBER: Senator Dyson
State Capitol, Room 121
Juneau, AK 99801-1182
fax: 907-465-4587

MEMBER: Senator Stedman
State Capitol, Room 30
Juneau, AK 99801-1182
fax: 907-465-3922
toll free: 877-463-3873

MEMBER: Senator Hoffman
State Capitol, Room 514
Juneau, AK 99801-1182
fax: 907-465-4523

MEMBER: Senator Olson
State Capitol, Room 510
Juneau, AK 99801-1182
fax: 907-465-4821

Please communicate to Senate Finance Committee members that they need to add $455,700 for Rural and Regional Emergency Medical Services, as did the House. To not do so will cripple the EMS Regions ability to support the local response agencies in their mission. The amount the four biggest regions received in this line item was $1,686,600 in 1991 and is $1,760,100 in the Governor s FY 07 budget, a total change of approximately 4% over 15 years. During the same time, costs have increased by 40% to 65% depending on the cost index used.

Ask them to please stop wasting time figuring out a way to spend millions of dollars to move a capital that does not need moving and to support the very infrastructure that responds to the calls for help that their constituency depends upon. While you are at it, ask that they also support the public safety agencies that are struggling now because of short sightedness on the part of the budget process that cannot, or will not, separate that which is nice to have and that which is a necessity. Do it today. It is not too late, but you can see it from here.

David Hull
Ketchikan, AK - USA


About: David Hull works in Public Safety. He is the Chief of the North Tongass Volunteer Fire Department.

Related Viewpoint:

letter Time Right to Move Legislature to Mat-Su By Rep. Mark Neuman

Note: Comments published on Viewpoints are the opinions of the writer
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.


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Ketchikan, Alaska