Derek Franz
dfranz@eaglevalleyenterprise.com

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May 2, 2012
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Two special district elections are May 8

Eagle County's special district elections are from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 8.

The polling place for the only two contested races is the Greater Eagle Fire Station, 425 E. Third St. in Eagle.

Votes must be cast in person unless the voter qualifies for an absentee ballot. Property owners and registered voters are eligible to vote.

The Gypsum Fire Protection District elections were canceled after only two candidates stepped up for the two open seats. The 2012-14 board is Tammy Conway, Patrick Johnson, Pete Nolan, Bill Stephens and Bill Baxter.

Likewise, the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District election was canceled when only two candidates - Bobby Ladd of Edwards, George Wilson of Gypsum and Tracy Erickson of Edwards- submitted petitions for the openings on the board. The WECMRD's board of directors also includes Tammy Conway of Gypsum and Michelle Anderson of Edwards.

The Western Eagle County Ambulance District is the most hotly contested race this year. Five candidates are vying for three seats. Two of those seats are four-year terms and one is a two-year term.

WECAD Board President Brian Schofield is running for re-election along with Vice President Jon Asper and board member Arleen Sandberg. The challengers are Jessica Mossman and Matt Solomon.

All the candidates seem to agree that the primary challenge facing the future board is maintaining quality service with a shrinking budget.

Schofield is seeking a four-year term and is in his third term on the WECAD Board. He is an assistant circulation manager with Colorado Mountain News Media and was a fire chief at Eagle County Regional Airport from 2001 to 2007. From 2007 through 2009, he was a security and safety coordinator for the airport. He also spent 23 years in the Navy Reserves.

"I've always been involved in the community in some way," he said. "I think we (the WECAD Board) have done some good things and I want to finish seeing those through to completion."

Schofield said it has been an accomplishment to keep all of WECAD's personnel, which translates as better service to the tax payers.

Asper agrees.

"We have awesome, dedicated employees and if we have that, we have good protection," said Asper, who recently retired as chief of the Greater Eagle Fire Department after 17 years. He was with the department 28 years total and has been on the WECAD Board almost 16 years. He is also running for a four-year term.

"We don't want to chop employee pay and benefits," he said, citing the importance of maintaining happy employees in order to keep the service level high.

"We're trying to be innovative and modern to give the public more for less," Asper said. "We've dug into our reserves but who hasn't?"

Regarding his candidacy, Asper pointed to his track record of missing only one board meeting through all his years of service.

"The public can trust me with that seat," he said. "I care about my community and it's a passion for me."

Sandberg has served three terms on the WECAD Board, starting in 1994, and is now running for a two-year term.

"I sat out a term when my daughter was in high school," she said. "I got on the board to begin with because my husband had a blood clot after surgery, I called 911 and the ambulance ran out of gas on the way to the hospital. We've come a long way since then."

Sandberg is an administrative assistant with the Eagle County District Attorney's Office.

"I've worked with money for 30 years," she said. "I'm up to the task of handling budget challenges and facing hard decisions. My absolute main priority is maintaining quality staff, facilities and equipment."

She recounted her early days with WECAD when the operation was based out of a mouse-infested trailer. She was on the board that passed a bond issue to buy a new facility.

She also agreed it's important to keep employees happy so they stick around.

"In my second term, I realized we were training paramedics who were then moving on," she said.

Solomon is contesting Sandberg for a two-year term. A NREMT-Paramedic, he currently works for the Eagle County Coroner's Office as a Deputy Coroner and is also the founder and manager of Alpine Arms in Eagle. Prior to that, he worked at WECAD from 2001 to 2010 as a paramedic and field training officer.

"I've worked under three different management teams and several different WECAD Boards," he said. "That provides me with insight that will benefit both the community and WECAD."

Solomon said he wants to make WECAD the best it can be while saving tax-payer dollars.

"There is a balance between quality patient care and wise money management," he said. "We need to step back and look at why WECAD is present in the community and what we as the board, the staff, and the taxpayers can do to make it better on all fronts, not just for ourselves as individuals. I'm able to contribute hands-on knowledge and experience to the decisions and developments of the district and be able to draw from my working relations with the other districts involved with WECAD."

Mossman is the newest face in town among all the candidates. She moved to Eagle a year and a half ago and is a sports therapist with Adagio Day Spa in Eagle. Prior to that, she was a project director who helped with large developments that ranged from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Denver to larger ones in Florida and Mexico.

"I handled budgets from $300,000 to $40 million," she said. "I've gotten pretty involved with the community since I moved here and my fiance is with the fire department, so I know a lot of those people. I want to help them help others."

Mossman has attended recent WECAD meetings and said she respects what the current board has done.

"They've done some good things but I think I can bring a fresh, objective perspective," she said. "I'm also really good with numbers, budgets and big pictures."

She said the biggest challenge facing the board will be how to provide the same level of service with a smaller budget and whether or not WECAD joins forces with the Eagle County Ambulance District (ECAD).

Lower property valuations and Cordillera's shift into ECAD's region account for a 36 percent drop in WECAD's latest budget.

"We cut $900,000 from the 2012 budget and we currently have a $2.4 million reserve that is being utilized to replace some of the shortfall," said WECAD Chief Chris Montera, who is also the designated special district election official. "The reserve is there so we don't have to go to the taxpayers and the board has been financially conservative about saving. We have also been very good at getting grants."

Montera said priority is given to public service. So far, budget cuts have been made by cutting operational programs like employee housing and capitol expenses.

"We have a building in Gypsum we still have to make payments on - about $200,000 per year," Montera said. "We're using general funds for those payments in order to stretch out our reserve funds over a longer period of time."

Construction impact fees were paying for the Gypsum building until the construction industry dropped off in recent years.

One of the most notable services WECAD launched in recent years is the Community Paramedic Program, which officially started in June 2011. It's basically a home-health program in which specially trained paramedics go to patients' homes, and it has proven to be a ground-breaking idea so far (see section below).

Community Paramedics has been primarily funded with grant money. Only 1.5 percent of WECAD's annual budget has been used for it so far. The grant money will run out eventually, of course, but the program is on track to become self-sufficient.

"The goal is to get the program recognized in health care so that we are reimbursed by insurance companies," Montera said. "Right now, we (as an ambulance staff) only get paid when we transport patients."

The Western Eagle County Ambulance District's Community Paramedics program launched in June 2011 with the intent to increase levels of preventative health care and lower current health care costs. It's among the very first of its kind and continues to receive national attention (for more background, visit www.eaglevalleyenterprise.com and search "community paramedic," visit www.communityparamedic.org or www.wecadems.com/cp).

The idea was that paramedics often have free time between calls when their skills could be put to use. Now, specially trained paramedics visit patients at their homes. That reduces a patient's need to travel for regular check-ups and procedures, which might occur less frequently otherwise. The paramedic also tracks a patient's living and health condition more closely, increasing the opportunities for preventative health measures.

Consequently - if a patient is visiting medical facilities less and health problems are averted in earlier stages - there are overall savings in health care costs in addition to improved health.

"There could also be economic benefits by people who aren't having to miss work to take care of a family member," said Anne Robinson, a public health nurse consultant who has been tracking and evaluating the Community Paramedic Program.

"We've been evaluating from the beginning to make sure we did it right, every step of the way," she said. "It's working. The program is saving an average of $4,500 annually per patient."

That data is gathered from the program's first 25 patients over a six-month period.

Now emergency medical service agencies across the country are following WECAD's model. WECAD's on line handbook for the program had been downloaded more than 1,000 times across the globe by early January.

Not only that, Colorado Mountain College is teaching a "pilot class" in Edwards to 107 students from all over the nation.

"Only six students are from Eagle County," Montera said. "The rest are from 14 other states and 27 EMS agencies."

Robinson said she knows of 15 other programs that are duplicating WECAD's model, and the fact that CMC is teaching the course implies an added economic benefit to Eagle County.

"All those students are traveling here," she said.

Montera said he was recently approached by a U.S. Senator from Nebraska who wanted to introduce a bill for WECAD's Community Paramedic Program to be covered by Medicare.

"That's been a goal from the beginning," Montera said.

- Derek Franz

dfranz@eaglevalleyenterprise.com


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The VailDaily Updated May 2, 2012 01:14PM Published May 2, 2012 01:10PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.