By HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
An olive branch has been extended in the disagreement between city and county officials over EMS funds.
A cordial letter from Pulaski County Judge-executive Barty Bullock addressed to Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler states that the county is taking steps to provide the city with nearly $1 million to help cover a shortfall in the Somerset-Pulaski County EMS budget.
“ ... I am happy to report that based on the approval of Fiscal Court last month, we are in the process of obtaining funding ... in the amount of $982,907 to reimburse the City pursuant to the terms of the 1995 Inter-Local Agreement for these unanticipated/unbudgeted expenses and unanticipated revenue shortfalls incurred by Somerset-Pulaski County EMS for 2012, 2011 and 2012, which have been paid by the City of Somerset,” states Bullock in his letter.
The 1995 agreement — which the Somerset City Council in March voted to terminate after fiscal court expressed a reluctance to pay the shortfall due to what they said was a lack of documentation — established which entity oversaw EMS operations. The agreement also established funding sources for EMS — something that has been in question since January.
Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler in January announced that EMS had finished fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30, 2012, in the red. City officials are saying the shortfall is around $982,000 — and that’s not including the running shortfall to the current fiscal year.
Both Girdler and Acting Somerset-Pulaski County EMS Chief Billy Duncan have said changes to Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement have led to the shortfall — even with an 86 percent collection rate.
“It (the shortfall) has just been adding up and adding up and adding up,” Duncan said in a March 16 Commonwealth Journal article.
The city turned to county officials for help covering that shortfall and pointed out the 1995 agreement called for the county to cover any unanticipated shortfall with additional occupational tax money.
The county already provides around $1.2 million yearly to EMS from occupational tax revenue, according to Pulaski County Treasurer Joan Isaacs. As “overseer” of EMS, the city provides additional funding and manages the operations of EMS.
Meetings were held between entities, and both the city and county appeared to be moving forward with an understanding that the county would provide the shortfall coverage.
But during a March 8 special-called fiscal court meeting, magistrates expressed some reluctance to pay, stating that they hadn’t received enough information to prove the shortfall really existed. Bullock said state auditors and KACO (which is where the county would most likely have to borrow from to cover the shortfall) advised that more information was needed to ensure the county documents the payment correctly. Soon after, the city voted to terminate the 1995 agreement.
Bullock in his letter, dated March 27, 2013, thanks Girdler for the city’s most recent audit report and EMS expenditures and receipts, both of which showed sufficient documentation of the shortfall. Bullock asks for a formal invoice to present to fiscal court for approval.
“Once that is done and our funding is approved, which I anticipate at any time, a check for ($982,907) will be forwarded to you,” Bullock states.
Bullock in his letter suggests 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 states. “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.”
When the city terminated the 1995 agreement, it left several options on the table: That the entities agree to sit down and work out a new inter-local agreement that would ensure EMS services were available to all parts of the county, or that the county would contract through the city’s EMS service (the city voted to obtain its licenses and certificate of need to continue operations). The county could have chosen to set up its own EMS service for county residents, although it would take some time to obtain the necessary certifications.
Somerset City Attorney Carrie Wiese had 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 occupational tax issue is not mentioned in Bullock’s letter.
“ ... Fiscal Court and I are extremely happy with the services provided by Somerset-Pulaski County EMS and we want the staff there to know how much we appreciate their professionalism, skill level, and the kindness they exhibit as they serve all of our citizens,” Bullock states in closing his letter.
Bullock also states that, should the terms contained in the letter be unacceptable to the city, then the county “ ... will be fully prepared to assume transfer of full responsibility of Somerset-Pulaski County EMS on July 1, 2013, including both administrative and operational duties.
“We remain determined and dedicated to providing emergency services to every citizen of Pulaski County, which includes all municipalities therein and will work closely with the city to ensure a smooth transition for both citizens and personnel,” Bullock finishes.
The letter was copied for all county magistrates, all city councilors, members of the media, and Somerset-Pulaski County EMS.
Wiese said on Monday afternoon that Girdler was out of town and had yet to review the letter in detail. She said the city plans to review the document as soon as possible and she declined comment until then.