Commonwealth Journal

June 25, 2013

Disagreement between city, county over EMS funding is history

By HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writer
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

It’s official. County and city officials are moving forward from a messy few months of disagreements over Somerset-Pulaski County EMS funding with an updated interlocal agreement. 
“That’s what it’s all about, is taking care of all those people out there,” said Pulaski County Judge-executive Barty Bullock on Tuesday. “I’m confident they (the city) are going to do a superb job with EMS, and I know EMS always does a good job.”
Pulaski County Fiscal Court on Tuesday unanimously approved the second reading of an amendment to the county’s occupational tax structure that will funnel more money toward the EMS service. That vote comes around two weeks after Somerset City Council unanimously approved a new interlocal agreement, developed by Somerset City Attorney Carrie Wiese and Pulaski County Attorney Martin Hatfield. 
“I want to commend both (Wiese) and (Hatfield) for working on this,” said Pulaski County Treasurer Joan Isaacs. “I know they worked endless, countless hours on this.”
County and city officials came together Tuesday to officially shake hands on and sign the new agreement, officially sealing the deal. 
Isaacs praised the city and county both “for coming up with an agreement that works for the betterment of everyone.
“I think it’s great for all involved,” Isaacs added.
The newest agreement occurred as a result of a back-and-forth between the city and county that began in January when city officials said EMS had finished fiscal year 2012 in the red. Citing guidelines as per a 1995 interlocal agreement, the city asked that the county cover $982,907 of the shortfall. 
Funding for EMS had been established through the 1995 agreement between the two entities. The county had been providing the $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. 
After some disagreements between the two entities that included the city’s move to drop the inter-local agreement completely, the city and county moved toward an updated agreement. 
Pulaski County Fiscal Court early this month held a first reading of an ordinance to adjust the county’s occupational tax structure to make more room for additional EMS funding. 
Now that the amendment has passed its second reading, it’s official that 15 percent of the occupational tax revenue will go to the county’s general fund that is specifically earmarked for EMS — amounting to $1.4 million. That’s up from 13 percent, which had amounted to roughly $1.2 million for EMS, although that number changed depending on how much tax revenue had been collected. 
“I think it’s a fair agreement,” said Bullock. 
Isaacs explained that should the $1.4 million threshold not be met, it will be made up through the county’s general fund. She added that anything over the $1.4 will go into the county’s general fund. Those amounts will be at the mercy of yearly occupational tax collections. 
The details of that are contained in the new interlocal agreement. 
Mayor Girdler confirmed during the June 10 council meeting that, as per the agreement, the county’s contribution to the EMS fund will be capped at $1.4 million. 
 “It’s going to be up to the city ... to come up with all the cost cutting,” Girdler said during the meeting. 
The agreement includes a lump-sum payment from the county for $550,000 — a little over half of the $982,907 the city had initially asked for. That lump sum will help cover the shortfall for both the 20120 and 2013 fiscal years. 
Also included in the new agreement is the creation of an advisory board made up of appointees from each entity. The board would legally have no authority and only serve to provide oversight in cost-cutting measures — and it will serve as an advisory body in the face of issues such as Medicaid and Medicare bill collection, and V.A. issues. 
Bullock has been a proponent of the board since talks began of a new agreement began — and he even included a suggestion for a new board in March in a letter addressed to the city. 
“This is just to keep an eye on things,” said Bullock.
As per the new agreement, the county and city will each appoint two representatives of their governments to the board. Additional members of the board will include the EMS Medical Director, along with one representative from the nursing home community and one representative from the veterans community, each to be jointly agreed upon by the city and county. Both governments will also appoint one citizen member who is a resident of Pulaski County. Somerset’s chief financial officer (currently Michelle King) and the county’s treasurer (currently Isaacs) will provide assistance as well.