County balks at negotiations

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August 13, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Allen County commissioners increased their budget’s property tax levy by 2.2 mills Tuesday as the first step in taking full control of countywide ambulance service.
The action, which will require the budget to be republished ahead of a Sept. 2 public hearing, came in the wake of a decision by Iola council members Monday night to trigger a termination clause in the city’s contract to provide the service. That came on a 3-2 vote after council members decided without additional county funding the city would find itself facing too great of a funding deficit.
In addition, a $5 surcharge was added to Iola electric bills for the remaining months of the year, to raise about $70,000 to deal with a pending shortfall for this year.
A week ago county commissioners agreed to provide $189,000 — $136,000 immediately and $53,000 by year’s end — to deal with half the shortage.
Monday night Councilman Steve French moved to hand the service back to the county adding that he hoped it would spur renegotiations between the county.
A consideration in the county’s grant that didn’t sit well with council members was that if Iola gave the service back to the county, the $189,000 would have to be repaid.
“A loan” City Administrator Carl Slaugh called it.
Commissioners Dick Works and Tom Williams said they had no stomach to renegotiate the contract.
“I’m not going to negotiate with someone holding a gun to my head,” said Williams, in response to the city action to negotiate or get the service back.
Williams also said he didn’t want “to negotiate with people who don’t keep their word,” referring to the city having approved the contract about eight months ago, and now invoking the six-month termination clause.
Works was just as succinct, saying he was “not going to negotiate at all” and that his goal was to work toward taking full control of ambulance service in six months’ time.
The third commissioner, Jim Talkington, made no categorical comments.
Works also said the “last 30 years their (Iola’s) idea of working together has been to ask for more money.”
Many years ago Allen County and Iola struck a deal that had the county buying ambulances and Iola’s fire chief being the operations officer. Volunteers operated units in Moran and Humboldt.
Then, the county hired a director and took full control, with Iola eventually starting its own, separate service. Finally, after several years of discussions and accusations, the two bodies settled on Iola operating a countywide ambulance service under contract with the county.
Now, the agreement apparently has disintegrated.

THE COUNTY’S decision to increase its mill levy by 2.2 mills was done to ensure funding if in fact it took control of countywide service, which apparently would occur on Feb. 11 with the city’s decision Monday evening.
Iola has projected countywide service to cost $1.35 million, with $750,000 guaranteed in ambulance run revenue.
With those numbers in mind, commissioners have on hand the run revenue and $276,515 budgeted for ambulance expenditures in 2015. The two revenue sources total $1,026,515.
Based on the county’s assessed valuation of $99.4 million, the 2.2-mill addition to the general fund will generate nearly $220,000, putting the total then at nearly $1.25 million. With better than a month of 2015 on the city’s nickel that should be sufficient.
Even with the 2.2-mill increase, county budget tax demands, partly because of a $2.4 million increase in assessed valuation, still will be 3 mills less than the 2014 budget required.

COMMISSIONERS noted that city council members sought to have a face-to-face with commissioners at 6 p.m. on Aug. 26 in the Creitz Recital Hall
Commissioners said they would attend — if it occurred.

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