Commonwealth Journal

May 12, 2013

City and County trying to resolve EMS funding issue

Agreement may be at hand

by Heather Tomlinson
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset — Although the details haven’t yet been revealed publicly, county and city officials appear to be in talks over a tentative new EMS funding agreement.

“It (the agreement) is going to work,” said Pulaski County Judge-executive Barty Bullock. “We’re going to get this settled.”

Any communication between the City of Somerset and Pulaski County Government is a big step toward solving an issue that received much attention in January after Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler announced that Somerset-Pulaski County EMS had finished fiscal year 2012 in the red. City officials, citing guidelines as per a 1995 interlocal agreement, 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 around $1.2 million yearly to EMS from occupational tax revenue — although that number changes slightly depending on how much occupational tax revenue the county sees yearly.

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.

Pulaski County Fiscal Court had initially been reluctant to provide the $982,907 needed to cover the shortfall, as requested by city officials, resulting in city council’s termination of the original agreement.

But it wasn’t long after that when the county began the process of securing those funds after obtaining financial documents from the city. Bullock in March informed city officials that the county was in the process of securing the funds.

As the issue continued to unfold, city and county officials alike emphasized that no one, whether they live in the city or county, would go without EMS service.

Bullock stressed that again on Friday.

“This has to work for all of the people of the county,” said Bullock.

Now, both 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 as well.

Girdler had proposed a contract situation in which the county would pay the city $1.6 million yearly to provide EMS service. That number would be considered the maximum provided by the county, and city officials have stated the city would cover any additional costs after that.

On Friday, Bullock couldn’t say whether that number was still in the mix, and Hatfield declined to comment, stating that they were still working in finalizing an agreement.

Girdler seemed optimistic about the issue.

“This will bring us up to date,” said Girdler on Thursday. “ ... We’re very close to an agreement.”

Girdler said the two entities were looking at making a few “small minor” changes to the new proposed agreement, and Bullock confirmed that.

“This is just the way stuff gets worked out,” said Bullock. “You go back and forth ... and finally you find a happy medium place.”

Bullock said he hopes some type of inter-local board can be established that would oversee EMS operations.

“I think the board needs to be comprised of both entities,” said Bullock. “That should help us to avoid all these shortfalls.”

Girdler has stated through a press release that under Somerset’s proposed agreement the city’s Public Safety Committee could meet “periodically” with county officials and others “ ... to review and offer advice on how to meet changing economic and healthcare needs relating to EMS.”

Girdler also said the city and EMS staff would update city council and fiscal court regularly to keep the entities up to date on any issues that may develop.