Commonwealth Journal

January 19, 2013

City gives county deadline for EMS payment

By HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writer
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

City officials are ready for the county to show them the money. 
Somerset City Council during Monday’s meeting voted unanimously to pass a resolution allowing the city to advance more than $1 million to help fund a Somerset-Pulaski County EMS shortfall.
The resolution also states that the city will give Pulaski County government until March 1 to put up the funds before pursuing other solutions to the problem. 
“86 percent of EMS runs are outside the city and only 14 percent is in the city,” said Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler, after the council returned from an executive session that was closed to the public. “But the city council feels it’s a critical program.
“ ... To make sure we have service while we negotiate the payment ... we’re advancing EMS $1.3 million,” added Girdler. 
City officials suggested earlier this month that major changes to EMS funding are necessary. Girdler said changes to Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance coverage has led to many EMS bills being unpaid. Those unpaid bills led to a loss of around $970,000 on the city’s checkbooks by the close of the 2011-2012 fiscal year, which ended in June. 
Mayor Girdler had met with Pulaski County Judge-executive Barty Bullock about the city possible claiming its own portion of the occupational tax — which funds a significant portion of the county’s budget — in order to solve the shortfall. However, Girdler said that option wouldn’t come into play until some time in the future, and he had stated to the Commonwealth Journal that funding EMS and avoiding service interruption would be the city’s first priority.
Although only estimates exist as to what portion of the occupational tax would go to the city, numbers have been put at 55 percent to 65 percent of the pie — and that would depend on which employers are located in the city limits. 
County officials have even said it could be as high as 75 percent. 
As per the resolution, Girdler said if an agreement between the two entities aren’t met, then he’s authorized to “take any necessary action to secure EMS funding.”
City officials intend to meet with the county to hammer out an agreement.
“We’re spending a lot of money now putting the water plant in ... all that water is going to the county,” said Councilor Jim Mitchell. “I think they need to step up and help us out all they can.”
The city, which is currently expanding and renovating its water plant, located on Old Monticello Road, provides water wholesale to a number of water providers in the county, including Southeastern Water Association, Western Pulaski Water, Science Hill Water, and Eubank Water. The rural water districts extend into four neighboring counties.
City officials have estimated that Somerset Water Service provides treated water to 120,000 people.
The city intends to uphold a 1995 agreement drawn up between the two entities that outlines how the county and city fund Pulaski County 911 and EMS. As per the agreement, the county took over operations and funding for 911, while the city was identified as the “overseer” of EMS. 
The agreement states that the county will provide additional funding through its occupational tax revenue in the event of a shortfall.
Girdler said during Monday’s meeting that the quality of service of Somerset-Pulaski County EMS is “unbelievable.
“The staff over there (at EMS) is first-class,” Girdler later reiterated. 
The council seemed to be in agreement about the resolution, but its newest member, Councilor James C. “Jimmy” Eastham, who was sworn in earlier this month, took issue with the Commonwealth Journal’s coverage of the issue.
“The two major articles that hit the paper in the last week were all one-sided reports,” Jimmy Eastham said. “They were all achieved by interviewing one side.”
The Commonwealth Journal obtained information from both Mayor Girdler and Judge-executive Bullock in reporting the situation.
“They (the county) furnished all the stats and what they wanted the people to know and the other side didn’t get to do the same thing,” Jimmy Eastham added.
The Commonwealth Journal reported on the financial impact the city’s claiming of the occupational tax would have on the county and ran estimated numbers provided by County Treasurer Joan Isaacs — numbers that were only calculated based on the assumption that no new funding agreements would be drawn up between the two entities should the city claim its portion of the occupational tax.
“It could be a positive thing for the county if they focus on this,” said Councilor Tom Eastham. “This is an opportunity for the county government to step up and be a positive entity and participate in this program, not that they haven’t in the past ... 
“I hope they come through and are willing to sit down and pay their debt and come to an agreement,” Tom Eastham added. 
Mayor Girdler had a much plainer way of expressing the city’s intent.
“It’s very simple,” Girdler said. “They owe it, they should pay it.”