County, city talk EMS funds (again)

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July 30, 2014 - 12:00 AM

While all involved in the discussion said they wanted Iola’s foray into countywide ambulance service to succeed, there continues to be varied opinions on its funding mechanism.
A short review:
City Administrator Carl Slaugh figures Iola will come up about $378,000 short on meeting the service’s obligations by year’s end. A few weeks ago the city asked the county to kick in $189,000, or a little more than half of what’s in the county’s 2015 budget for ambulance service.
A week ago commissioners proposed, but didn’t vote on, a plan to give Iola $136,000 and hold in reserve another $53,000 — totaling $189,000 — to deal with the shortfall. A caveat, and the sticking point with Slaugh and city council members, is a provision for the city to pay back that money if Iola returns the service to county control.
Slaugh termed the offer a loan — unsavory for council members — and suggested the two sides look at renegotiating a five-year agreement that starts its eighth month Friday.
Commissioner Dick Works remains adamant about keeping the pay-back in place, asking at one point whether the city wanted charity or a loan.
Slaugh countered that six months into the service, the city was “better able to show cost of the service,” with the shortfall being evident.
Meanwhile, in a give-and-take discussion, Commissioner Tom Williams said he wanted to the city to succeed with countywide service, and “it’s a no-brainer what we (commissioners) need to” provide the requested $189,000. “That would be my vote,” he said, without being specific whether he’d be willing to forego pay-back, though, “we’ll have to wait and see what Jim (Talkington, third commissioner) wants to do.”
Talkington has missed the past two meeting but will be at next Tuesday’s.
City councilmen Monday evening tabled discussion about ambulance funding — and the future of the service itself — until their Aug. 11 meeting. By then the full county commission is expected to have made a decision.
Williams said he had faith in Iola fire/EMS personnel to make the service work and eventually get a handle of finances.
“I want it to succeed,” he said.
Works, in a pragmatic vein, said that while he would be “willing to take it (ambulance service) back, I also want to see it succeed” under Iola’s thumb, which in the long run would lead to calmer waters and savings for county taxpayers.
Fact is, commissioners anticipate lowering its budget’s tax levy by 5 mills without having to budget for ambulance service.

SLAUGH HAD two observations, leading into discussion.
— People living outside Iola seem to feel that the county is funding Iola’s Fire Department in whatever funding that is transferred between the two governing bodies.
“I’m confident we’re not funding the fire department,” Works said. “That’s a fair expectation,” Slaugh replied.
— Is it fair for Iolans to fund EMS for outlying areas? An outcome that might be the interpretation if the city were to ask for additional funding from Iolans through property or sales tax levies, a surcharge on utilities, transfers from utility reserves or a simple surcharge to support the ambulance service.
“The cost is not balanced,” Slaugh said, saying countywide service was a joint venture.
“It’s not a joint venture,” Works said, rather “we contracted for services provided” by the city to manage it.
Slaugh also said city council members were not receptive to taking extraordinary steps to fund the service; i.e., tax or utility increases. And, referring to the pay-back caveat attached to any county money that might come Iola’s way, he wasn’t eager to budget for more than was required to operate the service in a given year.

COUNTY COUNSELOR Alan Weber said an individual asked about mineral reserves held in the county’s name for a property in the county and what might be the course for releasing ownership.
County Clerk Sherrie Riebel said several mineral reserves were sequestered with the county after they were not claimed as part of property tax sales.
Weber said he would check on a number of such properties and whether they had any value.

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