Sturgis gives campground owners ultimatum

Campground owners around Sturgis are being asked to pay what Sturgis city officials call “their fair share” for ambulance services during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

The city proposes to have campgrounds located outside the city limits pay in advance for ambulance services based on the number of calls they requested in 2018. The fees for service vary from $300 to $5,100. If payment from the campground owners is not received by May 15, the Sturgis Ambulance Service response area would be redrawn, leaving out those areas that are not paying.

The proposed fees range from $300 to $5,100 and are based on the number of ambulance calls to the campgrounds during the 2018 rally, Sturgis City Manager Daniel Ainslie said at a Feb. 19 special meeting in Sturgis with campground owners.

Under the proposal, campgrounds that had no ambulance calls last year would be assessed a $300 fee to cover this year’s rally in August. Those with one to four calls last year would pay $650, those with five to nine calls would pay $1,850, and a fee of $5,100 would be charged to those that had 10 or more calls during the 2018 rally.

 

According to listings on sturgiscampgrounds.com, there are more than a dozen campgrounds in and around Sturgis. Ainslie said services provided to campgrounds inside the city limits are covered by city sales-tax and property-tax revenues.

The city’s proposal is set for discussion before the Sturgis City Council on April 15.

If approved, the fees would have to be paid by May 15. Campgrounds not paying the fees by that date would no longer receive city ambulance service.

At the Feb. 19 meeting, Ainslie said during the 2018 rally the city ambulance service responded to 60 calls from campgrounds, amounting to 17 percent of total calls during the rally.

Of those calls, he said, 33 percent of patients refused transportation to a hospital after the ambulance arrived and of those transported only 23 percent of the amount billed was paid, creating a more than $25,000 shortfall, he said.

“We travel the distance out there and either we bandage the person up or give them the immediate aid they need and they refuse transport to the hospital, or other times we go all the way out there and no one’s there. That’s a significant cost that there’s absolutely no reimbursement for,” Ainslie said.

Ainslie said reimbursement for ambulance services by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance coverage is limited.

Medicaid reimbursements, for example, only cover 20 percent of the cost of an ambulance call, while Medicare covers 50 percent of ambulance services and private insurance covers 60 percent of a call.

According to the city, calls for ambulance service have essentially doubled in 10 years, from 1,076 in 2009 to 2,070 calls in 2018.

Ainslie said in 2018 the city provided $277,201 to the Sturgis Volunteer Fire Department and Sturgis Ambulance Service. He said the total losses for the ambulance service in 2018, including building maintenance insurance and equipment replacement, was $250,798.

Calls to a number of campground owners around Sturgis revealed some who were unaware of the Feb. 19 meeting. Others voiced strong opposition to an upfront fee.

“They basically have told us if we don’t submit and pay, they’ll deny us ambulance services and we’re not OK with that,” said R.J. Ludwick, of No Name City Campground, located between Sturgis and Tilford along Interstate 90.

“We all pay taxes, and we have higher taxes because of our businesses, and we all feel that’s not right,” Ludwick said.

Buffalo Chip Campground owner Rod Woodruff said the campground has a full staff of EMT-trained security that will verify the legitimacy of an ambulance call and take a patient to a pickup point to minimize the time for an ambulance run from Sturgis

“We’re doing that just to help the ambulance service to keep their costs down and eliminate the false calls,” he said.

Woodruff said campgrounds bring in thousands of visitors who spend millions of dollars in Sturgis during the rally.

“It doesn’t seem like much appreciation for the campgrounds who are taking care of these people that are going into town and spending all this money and helping Sturgis realize this income every year,” Woodruff said. “It looks like we are being asked to pay the lion’s share of losses he (Ainslie) says the city has."

 

Ainslie said he is open to other ideas for addressing the funding needs for the ambulance, which serves 20 percent of Meade County, along with a small portion of Lawrence County.

He asks for any written proposals to be submitted by March 15.

“If they have any ideas for alternative ways, we’re happy to discuss them,” Ainslie said.

The campground proposal is one of several funding avenues the city is exploring in the wake of a series of town-hall meetings concerning funding for fire and ambulance services, Ainslie said.

In December, a pair of proposed fire and ambulance districts to help cover expenses for areas just east and north of Sturgis were turned down by county voters.

Another area brought up concerned the cost of responding to areas in Lawrence County along Interstate 90 and in Boulder Canyon west of Sturgis. Ainslie said negotiations are underway with Lawrence County to cover some of those costs.

Meade County recently approved a $5,000 annual payment to the city to cover transporting county jail inmates for medical treatment. In 2018, there were 15 of those calls, he said.