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Billings City Council sounds off on redistricting, ends EMS board

Billings City Council sounds off on redistricting, ends EMS board

A couple of surprise visitors showed up for the Billings City Council meeting Tuesday.

The two Madagascar hissing cockroaches accompanied ZooMontana Director Jeff Ewelt and zoo education director Troy Paisley as they updated the council on progress at the zoo.

Animals hadn't caused such a stir at the council since the great debate over backyard chickens. Once the cockroaches were put away, the council got down to more serious business.

It voted to send a letter to the state Districting and Apportionment Commission requesting changes in Billings-area House and Senate districts.

It also voted to abolish the Emergency Medical Services Board and to terminate a Planning Department position dealing with tax increment finance districts, which will allow the Billings Industrial Revitalization District to hire its own TIF coordinator.

The letter to the state commission basically expresses the council's concerns about how House and Senate districts are drawn in the Billings area. The council asks the commission to abolish Senate districts that stretch hundreds of miles in some cases, from county to county, and instead to pair the proposed House districts to create seven Senate districts that are wholly within Yellowstone County.

The vote to abolish the EMS Board was 8-3, with Denis Pitman, Angela Cimmino and Becky Bird voting no. The vote followed some debate over the granting of exemptions requested by American Medical Response, the private ambulance company that responds to all 911 calls in the city.

By ordinance, the company must respond to EMS calls in under eight minutes 90 percent of the time. It can, however, seek exemptions for severe weather and unusually high demand.

Firefighter Alan Lohof spoke against disbanding the EMS board, saying the issue of granting exemptions is an important one, and the board should be involved in reviewing them. As it is, exemptions are granted by the fire chief with the concurrence of the city administrator.

Lohof said the city needs "needs more oversight, not less; more transparency, not less."

But board chairman Charlie Hamwey said the board's duties no longer match what it was created to do. He and several council members said oversight would better be provided by having the fire chief work with the county's emergency service coordinator, and perhaps several other county boards.

In other action, the council amended the Expanded North 27th Street Urban Renewal Plan to include a Retail Retention and Recruitment Program as a project eligible for tax increment financing.

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