Commonwealth Journal

February 16, 2013

City Council in favor of EMS plan

Agreement with county would provide extra funds from occupational tax


Commonwealth Journal

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City officials appear to be in favor of a recent agreement between the city and county drawn up to help the city avoid a funding shortfall for emergency services without leaving the county high and dry on the occupational tax front. 
Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler during Monday’s Somerset City Council meeting asked that councilors consider moving forward with the tentative agreement, which was drawn up between the city and Pulaski County officials last week in an effort to keep those on both sides of the issue satisfied. 
All of the councilors, save for Councilor Jimmy Eastham, who was absent, voted in favor of allowing Girdler and Somerset City Attorney Carrie Wiese to move forward with negotiations with the county and “to start drafting the necessary documents for future actions,” Girdler said during the meeting. 
City officials had looked at claiming its chunk of the occupational tax revenue, which would have been anywhere between 55 percent and 75 percent of the county’s current occupational tax revenue. That would have left the county reeling.
The reason behind that move was what Girdler said had been a funding shortfall for Somerset-Pulaski County EMS, which the city currently funds and operates thanks to an agreement drawn up between the city and county in the 1990s. Girdler had stated the city took a loss of around $970,000 for EMS by the close of the 2011-12 fiscal year thanks to changes in Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance coverage. 
But before the city moved in to take its chunk of the occupational tax revenue, both sides agreed to negotiate a new agreement involving EMS funding and the occupational tax. 
One key part of the agreement is a restructuring of the occupational tax from which the county receives significant revenue. It’s that restructuring of how the occupational tax revenue is distributed that provides perhaps the linchpin upon which the agreement is built.
“Without complete restructuring of the occupational tax, I wouldn’t want to say that the problem is solved, because it isn’t,” Girdler told the Commonwealth Journal in an earlier article, “... not unless the whole package comes together.”
Pulaski County Judge-executive Barty Bullock has stated that the biggest changes won’t be seen by the taxpayers, but by government officials themselves.
“We’re going to look at redoing that the give the city a little bit more (money) to do things like operate the EMS service, which is essential services that we have to have for everyone in the county,” said Bullock.
A statement released by the two municipalities earlier this month called the preliminary agreement “a cornerstone for future growth, providing essential services to all citizens today and in the future, and complete(s) the contract arrangement that was made in 1995,” and that it’s the “first comprehensive effort in over 20 years that will make local government more efficient, less confusing, create more jobs, and provide quality services ... that are expected by every person in Pulaski County (and) Somerset.”
In other news from Monday’s Somerset City Council meeting: 
• Councilor Mike New requested that the city provide salt for the parking lot next to SomerSplash Waterpark where R-Tech busses are usually parked when not in use.
“They have a hard time with those busses,” New said. “I had a couple drivers tell me they just about wrecked up there the other day because it was so slick.”
Girdler said they would check into providing salt for the parking lot, which is located on city property. 
• The council voted unanimously to recognize local cheer squads for their achievements while at the Universal Cheerleading Association National High School Competition in Orlando, Fla. The Southwestern Cheerleaders won first place in their division and brought home a national championship trophy, while Pulaski County High School and Somerset High School had strong showings as well. Pulaski placed 6th in its division and Somerset placed 11th. Southern Middle School placed 4th in its division, and a Somerset Independent Junior High team brought home a 4th place trophy. 
• Councilor Jim Rutherford said he and Wiese hope to bring a tweaked entertainment ordinance back to the council by the next meeting. The city has opted to make some changes to its current entertainment ordinance — one that has not been updated since the 1980s and is based on a state statute from the 1950s — to help it align better with current city and state alcohol regulations. 
• Councilor Tom Eastham commended those with the city’s parks and recreation department for work being carried out in the outdoor area at Rocky Hollow Park. 
“They’re doing a lot of work ... and I’ve noticed it,” said Eastham. “They’re really putting a lot of work in down there and it looks nice.”