In Response to Inaccuracies About Western Lane Ambulance


Siuslaw News Guest Viewpoint

Editor’s Note: Due to maintenance at News Media Corporation’s press plant in Newport, the Oct. 30 edition of the Siuslaw News had to be done early. This letter missed the print deadline but is included online now in light of the Nov. 2, 2021, Special Election.

 

Oct. 28, 2021 — (Editor’s Note: Viewpoint submissions on these and other topics are always welcome as part of our goal to encourage community discussion and exchange of perspectives.)

 

As the Fire and EMS Chief for Western Lane Ambulance District I feel obligated to point out the inaccuracies that have been published in the Opinion page of the Siuslaw News and sent to your mailboxes concerning the Local Option Levy our citizens are voting on.

I have been an emergency responder for 28 years and have had the privilege of leading many excellent fire and EMS organizations. The quality of care we receive from the men and women of our ambulance district is as good as any you will receive in this state or, in my opinion, throughout the country. This is the level of care our citizens have come to expect and deserve and the quality of care I want for my loved ones. I am very proud to stand beside the men and women of Western Lane Ambulance District as their Chief.

It almost seems that Mr. Farnsworth believes that the more times he states something in the Siuslaw News that is demonstrably false, it will become true. For example, he claims our Western Lane Ambulance District captains are paid $122,000 per year. False. Their annual salary is $93,943, which is just under the average salary of a captain in Oregon at $94,846. The top step for our exceptionally qualified paramedics is $81,689 as compared to the average of $79,355 throughout the State. And no, our employees don’t get a full month of vacation when hired; in fact, they can’t use any vacation time at all in their first year. Why doesn’t he want you to know the truth?

He likes to continually revisit a quote from my budget message from two years ago in which I stated my financial concerns about the District. He doesn’t want to quote from my budget message from last year in which I state, “We believe that the District’s financial future has improved considerably when compared to last year. On the revenue side we continue to see increases that we believe are sustainable. Negative effects of the pandemic on property tax revenues have not been observed and transport revenues continue to be at a record level. With the cost controls implemented in the last few years we also predict increases in expenditures to be minimal.”

The WLAD board did implement cost controls and made the tough decisions to ensure the survivability of your ambulance provider. We also had the additional benefit of our employees willing to freeze their wages for two years in order to help us weather the COVID pandemic.

Why doesn’t he want you to hear the whole story?

For someone with a financial background, his lack of understanding of the PERS retirement program for the State of Oregon is amazing. He would have us believe that WLAD alone can solve the unfunded liability present with all retirement programs. This is a State of Oregon problem, and the State is the one who is fixing the problem. As to their statement that we are allowing “employees to supercharge their benefits with the use of vacation pay and unused sick leave redemption”, I assume they are referring to the ability of Tier 1 and Tier 2 retirees to apply a portion of their unused sick leave to the calculation of their final salary. This only applies to employees hired before 2003 who are in the earliest version of PERS which does allow them to do this, however, with their unused sick leave only. Why do they continually try and mislead our citizens?

It seems to be apparent that the opposition would rather have a nearby “for profit” ambulance agency provide service to you and your loved ones here in western Lane County. The same “for profit” provider who, as reported in the Newport News Times on Oct. 1 in Lincoln County, recently requested that they not be held to the County-specified response times and that they be allowed to provide a lower level of service. Is that the type of service you want in western Lane County?   

On behalf of the wonderful men and women of WLAD and your elected Board of Directors, I just want to thank everyone for the tremendous amount of support we have received from our citizens. The overwhelming numbers of letters, phone calls, and positive conversations have meant the world to us. We look forward to providing you the level of service you have come to expect in western Lane County for many years to come.

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