The League City council should be commended for wanting to hold the line on the tax rate, but it’s going to have to invest more in emergency medical services.
Maybe not during the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, but sooner or later.
Expanding this core service is inevitable in a city growing as much as, and the rate at which, League City is growing. The population has grown to 102,000 and at a rate of about 3 percent a year, with no signs of slowing down. The city is frequently listed among the five fastest growing in the United States.
And demand for emergency medical services is driven by another force that’s affecting decisions and all levels of government all over the county — the growing population of senior residents.
The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to more than 98 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise to nearly 24 percent from 15 percent, according to the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit research group.
Aging of the Baby Boom generation could fuel a 75 percent increase in the number of Americans 65 and older requiring nursing home care, to about 2.3 million in 2030 from 1.3 million in 2010, according to the bureau.
Demand for elder care will also be fueled by a steep rise in the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, which could nearly triple by 2050 to 14 million, from 5 million in 2013.
At issue now for the city is a projected increase of almost 62 percent in the number of calls for EMS assistance in about the past five years. That measure of demand had never been much more than about 4,000 calls a year until 2013, when it began spiking upward. The number has since risen to 6,500 a year and is on track to double that 2013 number in just a few years.
The increase in calls for service, and a similar spike in transports to area hospitals during the same period, led EMS Chief James Fisher to ask for a fourth ambulance and six full-time employees to staff it.
But the $707,000 needed to fulfill that request isn’t in the fiscal year 2018 budget. City officials didn’t include the request in the budget because they wanted to avoid a tax rate increase.
The proposed 2018 budget would pay for about $3.3 million in emergency medical services, not including the fourth ambulance or additional staff. It represents a $62,038 increase compared with the 2017 budget.
The requested $707,000 would have covered an ambulance for $316,429 and six full-time equivalent positions to staff the ambulance 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The city would have staggered hiring throughout the year, but the additional staff would cost the city $520,000 in the next full fiscal year.
The city council could consider alternatives that would add some extra service but at a lower cost, Assistant City Manager Rebecca Underhill said recently. Those options included buying one ambulance and hiring two paramedics and a third employee at a cost of about $582,000; and buying the ambulance and hiring just the two paramedics at a cost of $490,000.
The city may also consider contracting with a private company for emergency medical services.
Exploring options is good, but the bottom line is the cost of EMS services will go up.
• From the editors