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Three Forks ambulance district no more

The Gallatin County Commissioners terminated the interlocal agreement that formed the Three Forks Area Ambulance District at their July 12 meeting following months of discussion and a decision by the Three Forks City Council to end the agreement at its June 14 meeting.

All three commissioners voted in favor of discontinuing the district. “The more we’ve gotten involved, the less our involvement is appreciated,” Gallatin County Commissioner Zach Brown said during the hearing.

Brown explained to the public in attendance at the meeting. “I wish them [the ambulance district] well and thank them for all their efforts to provide essential services and shorten response times out there in the Three Forks area.”

Commissioner Scott MacFarlane said the termination of the agreement recognizes that the county doesn’t “have a useful role in the district” and, therefore, clarify their relationship with it.

While the agreement and the district are no more, emergency medical services in Three Forks will continue under the direction of Barbara Mutter and a newly formed 501c(3) non-profit entity. “We’re not going away, we are just revamping,” Mutter told The Three Forks Voice. As of July 13, Mutter says the exact structure of the non-profit and its board has yet to be determined. “It’s all just happening now,” she said.

Although the structure of the Three Forks ambulance non-profit has not been finalized, Mutter has some ideas. The first steps she hopes to take are rewriting the board’s bylaws and the crew’s handbook, searching for more volunteers and continuing to serve the community.

Mutter said there was “going to be a little bit of a transition, but I think that we will be able to get it all done.”

Making sure the Three Forks area receives adequate emergency medical care has been difficult for Mutter. “It’s been really tough, but you just don’t walk away from it if you’re going to serve the community,” she said.

As a non-profit, Mutter expects to have more operating freedom than the district had as a public entity. At the moment, she is pursuing funding avenues not previously available.

Before the agreement was terminated, the commissioners agreed to allocate ARPA funds to outfit the new ambulance the service hopes to purchase; however, Mutter is unsure how the discontinuation of the district will impact that decision.

While the non-profit won’t have to follow the same operating requirements as a public entity, Mutter wants to continue posting meeting agendas and inviting members of the public to attend.

Mutter also hopes to move away from a volunteer-based organization and to hire employees. While this is a sentiment shared by other members of the community, funding such a service would cost “a tremendous amount” in staffing, medicinal and equipment needs. That amount, according to Mutter, is about $60,000 a year.

Following the precedent set by the Jefferson Valley EMS and Rescue, Mutter voiced the desire to establish an agreement with the city and county to charge a flat fee system for each house in the district. This would include homes in Three Forks proper and its surrounding areas, the south end of Broadwater County, the Willow Creek area and the west edge of Gallatin County.

Doing so would allow the ambulance district to recruit more workers, a task it currently struggles to do with only volunteer positions. “Right now, we’re a volunteer crew and everybody has got to work. … Everybody has bills to pay,” Mutter said. In the past, Mutter said businesses worked with volunteer EMTs, allowing them to leave when they receive a call; however, she said this understanding has decreased.

While Mutter has big dreams for Three Forks ambulatory services, she is waiting until a non-profit attorney can guide some of the decision making before moving forward.

The Three Forks Ambulance District was formed in 1992 by a law that has “since been taken off the books, so it’s obsolete,” Brown said.

“I think this has been a wild ride,” Brown said during the commission meeting. “The main purpose of this district and the interlocal agreement that created it was to set-up a service area boundary and also a funding mechanism to fund the services in the district, and it’s never been used that way.”

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