Brandon supports MED-Star standby fee

By: 
Jill Meier • Jamie Hult

Brandon City Council has pledged $49,999 to its 911 emergency services provider, MED-Star. Submitted photo

Brandon’s 911 emergency service provider’s request for a standby fee is gaining new ground. At Monday’s city council meeting, council members unanimously approved a $49,999 contract with MED-Star for 2019.
Last week, MED-Star Paramedic owner Jay Masur said the municipalities and townships MED-Star serves have either committed to the request or warmed up to the idea. 
“All the townships and communities are on board it sounds like, so that’s not an issue,” Masur said. “They all understand the need, and once they understand what we’re asking for, it’s a no-brainer.”
Although Minnehaha County rejected MED-Star’s stand-by fee request last year, Masur said he will continue to return to the county commission with that same request and reasoning.
Annually, the county supplements volunteer services in Dell Rapids, Garretson and Hartford with $50,000, and gives an additional $2,000 to the volunteer service in Jasper, Minn., which covers 16 miles in northeast Minnehaha County.
The county’s position is they have not made it a practice to subsidize for-profit businesses.
In recent weeks, the public has taken shots at Brandon’s city council and city administrator via posts on local social media pages because there has been no official action on the standby fee request.
“Is there a possibility MED-Star may not answer the call? Of course, there is a possibility, but it looks like that’s not going to happen,” Masur said last week. “It looks like we’re going to be around for a long time.” 
At the Jan. 21 city council meeting, Brandon resident Jim Irby asked the council to support the standby fee.
Irby pointed out that Brandon had been recognized as South Dakota’s safest city in 2018 – a honor that didn’t come about, he said, by its council being “self-preserving,” “incompetent” and “corrupt,” “as people on social media are trying to portray you.”
“I’m old,” Irby said. “Every day that goes by, the likelihood that myself or my wife is going to need some kind of medical treatment increases. The thought of that not being there is pretty unnerving.” 
Masur was quick to speak out on “some of the misnomers out there in the public.”
First, he said MED-Star is not losing $450,000 a year as a company. MED-Star has four divisions of operation, of which three are profitable, he said.
“The three private divisions that we own differently than 911 are all profitable,” he said. “911 is sucking all of that money out and it’s to the point now that we can’t sustain that and have a life.”
Masur admits his passion for the service drove him to subsidize the local 911 service longer than his other businesses should have.
“We’re asking for a little of help to take the edge off,” he said.
As of Jan. 17, Masur said city administrator Bryan Read and alderman Tim Wakefield had made on-site visits to MED-Star to assess the service and the need for a standby fee. Alderwoman Jo Hausman, he added, did her research about 10 months ago, and through council votes, has offered her support behind the standby fee request.
“Bryan understands and I believe he understands and has been relaying information to the other councilpersons who haven’t been to MED-Star so that they can understand what it is we’re asking for and going through,” Masur said. “I don’t expect people to understand just because I say so. They ask questions, I relay the answers and then there’s a big dialogue of communication so we all understand.”
In December, Brandon’s council majority voiced their support for the stand-by fee. At the Jan. 7 council meeting, alderman Chuck Parsons – who cast the lone dissenting vote in December – suggested a council work session to further review the request.
“The reason I voted no wasn’t because I wasn’t in favor,” Parsons said. “I just thought it was moving too quick.”
After the council approved the MED-Star contract Monday night, Parsons and alderman Brett Bastian spoke about their decisions to support the standby fee request, which they both waffled on at a prior meeting.
“In my mind, it’s a fairly complex issue,” Bastian said. “It’s not that I was totally against any funding.”
Bastian said Brandon’s current ambulance ordinance is outdated, and he plans to spend his last few months in office on revising it. His city council term expires in May.
“I think it’s time for a change. It’s very frustrating to me that the city ambulance ordinance is outdated. I will work to make sure it’s more reliable for future generations until my time is up on the council,” Bastian promised.
After opening his books to the city for review, Masur said there could be consequences. 
“I wasn’t prepared for how much I have lost until they started having me dig into it,” he said, adding he has since implemented books for the taxpayer-based 911 service separate from MED-Star’s private services. 
“When you ask for those answers, there might be a consequence for those answers, which is more money. Any good businessman wants to know what that is; I didn’t, because I knew it was high. I tried to sweep that under the table so I didn’t have to look at how much I’m losing on it, but they keep having me dig into it, and the more I dig into it, the more I see I’m losing.”
The cost to staff a paramedic-level ambulance for 24/7, 365 days per year is $100 per hour.
“This is on the low side,” Masur said. “Anybody can show me a smart businessman that’s going to take three companies to try and make the other work; that doesn’t happen.”
Masur said he understands the necessity to be frugal with taxpayer dollars. 
“But I’ve already shown those figures and where the taxpayer dollars are going. It’s to help with the wages and staffed vehicles,” he said.
In the coming weeks, Masur will present an additional funding plan to the city council that would assure 911 emergency services.
“All of this has made me put my mind to work for everybody, including myself and the residents of Brandon,” Masur said. “I’ve done a lot of thinking, and I can’t wait to break the news.”

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