Commonwealth Journal

May 4, 2013

City, county come to terms on EMS dilemma

Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

City and county officials may be mending their fences, at least temporarily, as they work toward a more permanent solution to a disagreement over EMS funding sources.
Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler through a press release last week announced that facets of a 1995 interlocal agreement that had established funding sources for Somerset-Pulaski County EMS will be kept in place while the city and county work toward an updated agreement. 
That means the city will continue to provide EMS service in the county after June 30, 2013 — the deadline provided by the city for the county to move toward its own EMS service should a new agreement not be locked in. 
“ ... the continuation of the finest quality EMS system is essential to the citizens of Somerset and ... county residents deserve the same level of service,” stated Girdler in the press release.
Girdler had informed Pulaski County Judge-executive Barty Bullock and other county officials on April 15 that the city was prepared to provide EMS service inside Somerset, leaving the county in the position of establishing its own service. 
Girdler had emphasized in city council and city budget workshop meetings that the June 30 date had been a “formality,” provided just in the event that a new agreement isn’t reached. The agreement the entities now intend to adhere to — the 1995 interlocal agreement — had been terminated in March by Somerset City Council following several months of disagreements over who should cover an apparent shortfall in the EMS revenue. Those disagreements began in January when Girdler announced that EMS had finished fiscal year 2012 in the red.
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. 
Funding for EMS had been established through the 1995 agreement between the two entities. The county had provided around $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. 
Girdler, in his most recent announcement, said the two entities will now stick to those guidelines. 
Girdler thanked Pulaski County Attorney Martin Hatfield and Somerset City Attorney Carrie Wiese “for spending many hours looking at the issues.
“They provided advice on how to continue EMS and make certain all citizens of Somerset and Pulaski County had confidence that the service is available when needed,” Girdler stated in the press release. 
Now, as the city and county work toward establishing another agreement — Girdler had proposed a contract situation in which the county would pay the city $1.6 million yearly to provide EMS service, among other options — plans appear to be in motion to establish some oversight for EMS operations.
Girdler stated in the press release the city’s Public Safety Committee will meet “periodically” with county officials and others “ ... to review and offer advice on how to meet changing economic and healthcare needs relating to EMS.
“In addition, staff of the city will update the city council and fiscal court on at least a quarterly basis on the overall financial condition (of EMS) or proposed changes in healthcare that would impact the reimbursement of revenue for the EMS system.”
That suggestion echoes some of Bullock’s own ideas on the issue, who asked in his communications with Girdler that the city and county form an EMS board in an effort to oversee EMS operations and avoid any disagreements in the future. The 1995 agreement had contained guidelines for an EMS board. 
“I think we can both agree that the exercise we have been through has not only been time-consuming for both the City and the County, but has also caused some uncertainty for the EMS employees and it would be beneficial for all concerned if we minimize the odds of the same situation reoccurring,” Bullock stated in his March letter. “I believe the reinstituted EMS Board will be able to address most issues that arise with regard to EMS, including providing budget oversight, which will make for more efficient government for all residents of Pulaski County, regardless of where they live.”
Girdler also stated that updated interlocal agreements have been sent to the cities located within the county that will establish EMS service in those cities through Somerset.