Facing deep budget cuts that threaten its survival, Maryland's nationally renowned Emergency Medical Services System is circulating petitions statewide to gain support for an earmarked tax to support the shock trauma agency.
The petitions ask Marylanders to back a $10 tax for the system, along with other emergency and rescue services, that could generate all or part of the cost. A 10-cent surtax on monthly gas and electric bills, on vehicle license tags, on beverages and on gasoline are among the ways considered by the system's advisory council yesterday to impose a designated tax.
After budget cuts of 20 percent over the past year, the EMS system is faced with a further cut of 60 percent in the next fiscal year, as part of cuts at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, where it is located.
"That would mean the death of the system, absolutely," said Dr. Ameen I. Ramzy, director of the net work that answers 400,000 emergency calls each year.
The fiscal 1991 budget was reduced $500,000 by July of this year, and since then, mandated cuts of another $1 million have slashed the budget to $5.8 million for fiscal 1992.
The preliminary budget for fiscal 1993 would be $2.5 million, although UMAB President Errol L. Reese told the advisory council yesterday that he is "95 percent certain" that drastic reduction would be canceled. The 10-member council met to consider ways to recover funding for the EMS system, which trains paramedics and coordinates the efforts of nearly 24,000 emergency workers, plus 500 ambulances and 10 severe trauma centers in state hospitals.
While there was no strong support for cutting the EMS system from the University of Maryland, the council agreed that it needed designated funding to prevent further budget cuts based on college reductions. Unlike schools in the university system, the EMS network brings in no tuition or grant money to go with state tax funds, leaving it most sensitive to state funding cuts.
Dr. Ramzy said the nearly $1 million in cuts for fiscal 1992 would reduce training courses, limit certification programs, cut training materials and postpone purchase of needed radios and relay equipment.
"The radio ambulance system is the heart of EMS -- it's meant the difference between life and death for Western Maryland," said Ken May, a volunteer firefighter from La Vale and a council member. "We will be back to the old days of funeral home hearses answering calls."