Ambulance district rejected by voters

Michael Smith
The Carter County Election Board on Tuesday night. Nearly 3,000 ballots from 21 precincts were counted by 8:30 p.m.

Voters have rejected a 3-mil property tax increase to provide ambulance service in the area. Without the additional revenue, Southern Oklahoma Ambulance Service officials have said they are unsure what will happen with the Carter County ambulance service financially after about two years.

The proposition was narrowly rejected by only 156 out of nearly 3,000 votes cast across five school districts. According to unofficial results from the Oklahoma State Election Board, the Carter County proposition was the only rejected ballot measure in 14 elections across the state. This is the second EMS proposal to be rejected by voters since 2011.

A group of area residents and employees of SOAS formed the Citizen Advisors for Regional EMS committee to promote the proposition last year. SOAS Executive Director Bob Hargis declined a phone interview, but said in a statement that SOAS and CARE committee members respect the voters’ decision to reject the proposed ambulance district.

“The staff members at SOAS love serving this community and will continue our mission to help others as long as possible, while our community leaders seek an alternate plan,” he said.

A total of 2,934 ballots were cast in the special election, including 200 absentee or early ballots, according to the Carter County Board of Elections. More than 10% of registered voters in 21 precincts showed up at polling places on Tuesday, and Carter County Board of Elections secretary Diane Hall said none of the polling places experienced any major problems.

The ambulance service provided by SOAS has relied on grants and endowments to cover operating costs since its creation in 1961. In November, Hargis told The Ardmoreite that funding was not able to keep pace with operating costs. “It’s not to say that more people wouldn’t jump in to help us, but as it is with our current funding sources, in two years we would have severe funding distress,” Hargis said at the time.

Carter County Commissioner Jerry Alvord on Tuesday said the commission will continue to be involved with discussions related to the future of ambulance service in the county. “Statutorily the county is required to provide a service,” Alvord said, adding he is currently unsure what that the service would look like without SOAS.

“The SOAS board is going to have to take a look at their situation and see what their options are,” he said. “It would only be intelligent that we would start investigating neighboring counties, other counties across the state.” Alvord also has to consider residents in the western part of the county who have already been paying additional taxes to subsidize SOAS.

“With half of the county paying taxes, and have been for many years to support the ambulance service, there is an obligation to them,” he said.

“There are too many questions without any answers yet.”