By HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
Somerset officials on Monday gave notice of their intent to terminate a decade-old agreement with the county that had established the funding and management structure for Somerset-Pulaski County EMS.
The move, announced through a reading of a resolution during Monday’s Somerset City Council meeting, comes after a Friday special-called Pulaski County Fiscal Court meeting during which magistrates expressed a reluctance to cover a nearly $1 million shortfall in the EMS budget.
“I just hope this is a mechanism ... we can use to bring both governments together and clarify the issues of the contract and the agreement,” said Ward 12 Councilor Tom Eastham. “By doing this ... they’ll sit down, we’ll have a new agreement, outline stuff, or maybe they (the county) want EMS. “Either way, we cannot put the burden of 56,000 Pulaski Countians on the city taxpayers without the county’s help,” Eastham added. “We can’t do that.”
The issue began to take shape in January after city officials announced that EMS ended fiscal year 2012 (which ended June 2012) in the red. The shortfall was said to be $982,000.
A 1995 interlocal agreement had established the city as “overseer” of EMS operations. Part of the EMS budget is funded through the county’s occupational tax fund, with the city providing additional funding. But the agreement states that in the event of a shortfall, it is the county’s responsibility to make that up in additional occupational tax revenue.
Now, the agreement seems to be a matter of dispute because fiscal court on Friday suggested that the contract may be void due to other parts of the agreement they said had not been fulfilled by the city.
Somerset City Clerk David Godsey read the resolution aloud in Monday’s meeting.
The resolution reads as follows:
“Whereas, the 1995 agreement between the City of Somerset and Pulaski County concerning the
overseeing or management of ... EMS by Somerset City Council is no longer practical or effective nor consistent with current laws and regulations; and whereas, the Pulaski County Fiscal Court has openly refused to acknowledge revenue shortfall or operating deficit or the county’s financial obligation to meet said shortfall and openly indicated in a Fiscal Court meeting that the contract is not valid; and whereas, the city has made known to the county on March 1, 2011, meeting with county officials in 2011, December 21, 2012, January 14, 2013, meeting with county officials on January 31, city resolutions on February 13, 2013 (copy sent to county); occupational tax ordinance on February 28, 2013 (copy provided to county) about the actual and projected financial shortfall for EMS; and whereas, the city has offered on at least two recent meetings to transfer the operation of the
EMS to the county but received no response; and whereas, the Mayor has no authority to go outside city limits for EMS without an Interlocal Cooperation Agreement or basic form of agreement; and
whereas, the city council would need to approve a budget amendment in addition to the emergency funds advanced to EMS by city resolution and an identification of the source of funds for the budget amendment; and whereas, every citizen of Somerset is a resident of Pulaski County and pays double taxation for that privilege and any EMS services provided by the county must be available to every
citizen of Somerset thereby giving Somerset citizens emergency services.
Now therefore, the city hereby gives a 60 (day) notice of termination of the EMS agreement with the county and consistent with a previous resolution authorizing securing repayment of underfunding of $982,097 through June 30, 2012 with FY 2013 not yet determined. In addition, the city will retain all current licenses for emergency services and reserves the right to continue, but not limited to, advanced life support (ALS), basic life support (BLS), medical transportation and other services within the city limits of Somerset as a supplement to the EMS services provided to all residents of the county.”
Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler said the city is glad to allow the county to take over EMS operations.
“They’ve indicated they have a few better ideas than we do, and that’s great,” said Girdler. “We’ll transition the best way we can.”
The councilors expressed some surprise at fiscal court’s reluctance to cover the shortfall. Magistrates stated on Friday they hadn’t received enough information on the shortfall to provide the money, and Pulaski County Judge-executive Barty Bullock said he’d been advised by the state auditor’s office and KACO that more proof needed to be provided to warrant the payment.
“We go down there and everything’s good, we come back here and it’s not good,” said Ward 3 Councilor Jerry Wheeldon. “They don’t come up here and tell us that. They don’t tell us nothing. So let’s pass this and go on.”
The council unanimously passed the resolution.
In a related move on Monday, the council also unanimously approved the second reading of an ordinance that would establish a city occupational tax to be levied against the county tax. That doesn’t mean additional taxes for anyone. The city will be claiming a larger portion of the occupational tax revenue than it already does.
“The purpose of the occupational tax is to deal with the EMS issue, to divide up the pot, that’s all we’re doing,” said Girdler.
Ward 1 Councilor Jim Rutherford said the idea of a city occupational tax goes against his thoughts that governments should intrude as little as possible in citizens’ lives, but he said the establishment of a city tax — with no additional cost to the taxpayers — is necessary in the face of the EMS issue.
“We’ve always been reasonable with the county in regards for EMS ... we’ve always been fluid when working with each other and I hope we continue to do so,” said Rutherford. “But when it gets down to it we have to protect our citizens and we have to protect their money.
“As much as it’s distasteful for me to enact a tax of our own, and to me that just means more government ... it’s just another intrusion we have to give our citizens. It’s not going to be any more expensive, but it’s still an intrusion. It’s a necessary intrusion.”
Look to upcoming Commonwealth Journal articles for a more in-depth look at the situation.