Commonwealth Journal

April 21, 2013

EMS losing life support

Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler officially withdrawing city from joint system to start new Somerset ambulance service

by Heather Tomlinson
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

It appears the county and city may part ways over the Somerset-Pulaski County EMS operations, unless new negotiations take place within the next two months.
Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler, in an April 15 letter addressed to Pulaski County Judge-Executive Barty Bullock, states that the city intends to provide EMS service to residents inside the city limits beginning June 30, 2013. That means the county will be in a position to establish its own EMS service outside the corporate limits of Somerset. 
“We’re prepared (to do our own EMS service) if we need to,” said Bullock on Friday, although he noted that he hadn’t yet been able to discuss the issue — including new negotiations with the city — with county magistrates.
Bullock said they’ll most likely discuss the EMS issue during Tuesday’s Pulaski County Fiscal Court meeting. 
Girdler’s letter follows an earlier letter from Bullock, one in which Bullock informed city officials that the county was in the process of securing the $982,907 needed to cover a budget shortfall in the EMS budget, which the city had been covering. Funding for EMS had been established through a 1995 interlocal agreement between the two entities. The county provides around $1.2 million yearly to EMS from occupational tax revenue. As “overseer” of EMS, the city provides additional funding and manages 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 January announced that EMS had finished fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30, 2012, in the red. Now, the county is undergoing the process of securing the bonds to cover the shortfall.
But that still leaves the question of the nature of EMS service. The 1995 agreement was terminated by Somerset City Council in March after fiscal court expressed an initial reluctance to pay the shortfall due to what they said was a lack of documentation. Therefore, new agreements need to be drawn up. 
Girdler states in his letter that he met with EMS employees on Friday, April 12 and informed them that the county would assume responsibility for EMS services in the county in the new fiscal year.
Somerset City Attorney Carrie Wiese confirmed that, and said EMS employees were told their jobs are not in danger.
“We told everybody their positions would be secure no matter what,” said Wiese. “But if they want to go to the county, we’ll support them.”
Wiese said city officials crunched the numbers and determined EMS operations would be able to continue in the city only without any job losses. 
Girdler in his letter offers the city’s assistance in starting up a county EMS service, but he also states that the city is willing to contract with the county to provide EMS service throughout the entire Pulaski County area.
“Again, as we have offered on several meetings, the city will be willing to contract with the Pulaski Fiscal Court for $1.6 million to provide EMS services outside the corporate city limits which is the amount necessary to provide the service without future requests to the fiscal court,” states Girdler. “We assume that you will take the $1.2 million currently allocated after July 1 and operate the county EMS services.”
Bullock said he’ll have a better idea of the county’s position after Tuesday’s meeting, but he emphasized that all citizens, whether they be in the county or city, will be provided EMS services.
“They will be taken care of, whatever we do,” said Bullock. “We’re going to provide the county with EMS service no matter what.”
Bullock had suggested 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 did not mention an EMS board in his April 15 letter. 
Wiese had also stated that the city was hoping a new occupational tax structure could be established that would allow the city to claim a bigger chunk of its share in order to cover the EMS operations completely. 
The county recently has not discussed a new occupational tax system.