By Sterling McGinn

The Luce County Board of Commissioners approved a request to place a millage increase on the November 5 ballot supporting the Luce County Ambulance Service.

The decision was made at the regular commission meeting on May 21.

“Back in 2022, we came to you for an approval to increase our millage, and it was the second or maybe third time that we did it during my time as director,” said Joseph Smithson, Luce County Ambulance director. “We were trying to be very mindful of what to ask the taxpayers for in terms of their support to keep us running.”

The ambulance service is funded by two revenue streams: the operating millage and the call volume.

“Since 2022, which obviously was kind of the tail end of the pandemic, we realized that we simply can’t continue to operate with our budget in the shape that it was,” Smithson said.

“When we asked for the increase before, it was kind of a two-part thing,” he said. “I wanted to come back to you this year to make sure that we are still okay with going on this upcoming ballot with that additional half-mill increase. The more we talked and the more we projected, we don’t feel that is enough. We talked to our legal counsel and got some advice from them, and they are saying that based on the numbers and your budget what you want to do, you are not going to have enough money. This doesn’t mean we have to shut the doors entirely, but it does mean we can’t offer the full service that we are normally used to providing.

In addition to 911 calls, the ambulance service provides mutual aid to neighboring emergency services, intercepts township ambulances upon request, and performs interfacility transfers.

“It comes down to we don’t have the staff to take transfers,” Smithson said. “We have local taxpayers, residents, visitors and family sometimes sitting in the hospital for a couple of days waiting to be transferred to another facility for more definitive care. Historically, we were taking between 97 to 99 percent of transfers out of this local hospital to more definitive care in Petoskey and Marquette, which were the big ones and sometimes the Sault and Ann Arbor—those bigger facilities.”

More recently, the ambulance service is down to 56 percent of transfers last year. Smithson contributes the lower percentage number with not having the ability to hire additional staff and is losing the ability to receive roughly $400,000 per year.

Initially planning to seek a 1.5 mill increase, Smithson says the EMS department needs 2.5 mills instead. The 2.5 mill proposal would be placed on the ballot in November; the 1.5 mill proposal approved in 2022 will continue.

Smithson told the board that the ambulance service has reestablished their education center and just finished their first EMT class a month ago.

“We had 10 students and nine of them have taken the national registry as of today and all nine have passed,” Smithson said.

“I have interviewed eight of those individuals to hire at Luce County Ambulance Service. We are making progress, but even though we hired these individuals and put them on our roster, we still need to be able to pay them in order to get to that whole 98 to 100 percent interfacility transfer goal.”

The board approved placing the request for the November ballot.

In other news, the commissioners approved the three landowner representatives for the new Big Manistique Lake Dam committee to operate the water control structure. The three members include: Kevin Orlovsky and Ross Abraham from Portage Township and Becky Brockman from Lakefield Township. The Mackinac County Board also approved the three representatives.

The other individuals making the seven-member dam committee are: Don Reed; Portage Township, Nick Wheeler; Lakefield Township, Brandon Wheeler, Luce County Commission and Corina Clark; Mackinac County Commission.

In other business, the commissioners approved contributing $2,500 for an agreement for law enforcement services from the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team.