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Supervisors hesitant about Johnson County Ambulance Service's desire for new facility

BY QUENTIN MISIAG | NOVEMBER 14, 2012 6:30 AM

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Johnson County Ambulance Service officials are calling for a new ambulatory and medical-examiner facility, but several Johnson County supervisors say approving the proposed justice center is currently a more pressing project.

Preliminary talk about a new ambulance and medical examiner facility to be potentially built south of downtown caused some controversy Tuesday morning at a Johnson County Board of Supervisors meeting, and several county supervisors say neither this project nor the proposed justice center will be approved if officials have too much on their plate at once.

Steve Spenler, the director of the Johnson County Ambulance Service, said he mostly agrees with the supervisors’ prioritizing plans for the proposed justice center, but he pushed the importance of a new, expanded ambulance facility.

“We’ve really outgrown our facility, and I think the board understands that,” he said.

Officials from the Ambulance Service were in attendance, and they focused on the need for expanded facilities, despite the popular push for the proposed justice center. The new ambulance and medical-examiner facility would carry a price tag of roughly $3 million and would need to be at least 13,000 square feet.

Supervisor Janelle Rettig said she would like to see a small ambulance and medical-examiner project develop to address the short-term needs, but she cautioned that the justice center and ambulance projects would not stand as good of a chance of passing if they were both on the same ballot.

The Ambulance Service moved into its current 3,600-square-foot facility, 808 S. Dubuque St., in 1988.

At that time, 16 full-time staff were employed, three ambulances were used, and the service received roughly 2,500 calls per year. Nearly twenty-five years later, the Ambulance Service employs more than 50 employees, includes six ambulances and responds to roughly 8,500 calls per year.

Several supervisors, including Terrence Neuzil and Retting, talked about potentially reusing existing structures that could accommodate the needs of the Ambulance Service.

Neuzil spoke about turning the current Johnson County Jail into a garage for the Ambulance Service and medical examiner if a new justice center is constructed in the near future.

Neuzil backed making the justice center a priority over any new ambulance and medical-examiner facilities. He suggested that a projected budgeted year for the ambulance and medical examiner building be 2015 or 2016.

As for the justice center, which was defeated by voters on Nov. 6, Supervisor Chairman Rod Sullivan, Rettig, and Neuzil said they would like to see an altered proposal be returned to the voters in a May 2013 special election.

The original proposal called for a $48.1 million, glass-clad, rectangular structure. The Nov. 6. referendum — which would’ve provided funding for the center —  needed 60 percent of the vote to pass but only received 56 percent.

“I’d like to see this thing get into the $40 million range,” Neuzil said.


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