By HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
County and city officials appear to have come to terms on a new Somerset-Pulaski County EMS agreement.
Somerset City Council on Monday voted unanimously to approve a new contract between the City of Somerset and Pulaski County government, bringing to an end a back-and-forth between the two entities that began in January.
City officials stated in January that EMS had finished fiscal year 2012 in the red. Citing guidelines as per a 1995 interlocal agreement, the city asked that the county cover $982,907 of the shortfall.
Funding for EMS had been established through the 1995 agreement between the two entities. The county had been providing the $1.2 million yearly to EMS from occupational tax revenue.
As “overseer” of EMS, the city provided additional funding and managed the operations of EMS. The agreement also stated that additional occupational tax funds would need to cover “unanticipated” shortfalls in the EMS budget.
After some disagreements between the two entities that included the city’s move to drop the inter-local agreement completely, the city and county are operating again under the 1995 guidelines while they move toward an updated agreement. Pulaski County Attorney Martin Hatfield and Somerset City Attorney Carrie Wiese have both been heavily involved in the process.
Both city and county officials confirmed in mid-May that Hatfield and Wiese had been working on a new agreement.
Wiese and Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler on Monday thanked Hatfield for his help.
“He worked on numerous drafts,” said Wiese. “He’s been a big, big help.”
Wiese also thanked those at EMS “ ... who put their two cents in and helped us try to figure this out.”
Details of the new agreement began to come to light last week, when Pulaski County Fiscal Court held a first reading of an ordinance to adjust the county’s occupational tax structure to make more room for additional EMS funding. The numbers involved are still tentative and are subject to change during a second reading, which will be held at the next fiscal court meeting.
If the new structure stands, 15 percent of the occupational tax revenue will go to the county’s general fund that is specifically earmarked for EMS — amounting to $1.4 million. That’s up from 13 percent, which had amounted to roughly $1.2 million for EMS, although that number changed depending on how much tax revenue had been collected.
Pulaski County Treasurer Joan Isaacs explained during the fiscal court meeting that should the $1.4 million threshold not be met, it will be made up through the county’s general fund. She added that anything over the $1.4 will go into the county’s general fund. Those amounts will be at the mercy of yearly occupational tax collections.
Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler on Monday stated that, as per the agreement, the county’s contribution to the EMS fund will be capped at $1.4 million.
“It’s going to be up to the city, unfortunately, to come up with all the cost cutting,” Girdler said.
The agreement includes a lump-sum payment from the county for $550,000 — a little over half of the $982,907 the city had initially asked for. That lump sum will help cover the shortfall for both the 20120 and 2013 fiscal years.
“There’s never been an issue about providing service ... the issue was how much the county was willing to put into EMS,” Girdler stated on Monday. “At first they said they weren’t going to put anything in. We do appreciate them changing their minds and giving us the $550,000.”
“The city council feels that ... if that’s all the county can come up with, we don’t have any choice than to accept it,” said Girdler.
Also included in the new agreement is the creation of an advisory board made up of appointees from each entity. The board would legally have no authority and only serve to provide oversight in cost-cutting measures.
“Hopefully we can work on issues like getting reimbursed for the runs for Medicare and Medicaid and (Veterans’ Affairs),” said Girdler.
City officials had stated that EMS had been receiving less and less for Medicaid, Medicare and VA runs, leading to the budget issues.
The remaining step in the pursuit of a new agreement will take place at the next fiscal court meeting, when the magistrates revisit the new agreement through the second reading of the occupational tax restructuring.
Councilor Tom Eastham was not in attendance during Monday’s meeting.