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City, county at stalemate over EMS funding

By RANDY PATRICK

Sun Reporter

County and city officials met for nearly two hours Monday night to talk about funding for emergency medical services but came no closer to renegotiating their interlocal agreement.

The expenses for the ambulance service, which is operated by the Winchester Fire Department but paid for by both local governments, are more than $1.6 million year to date, but revenue is only a little more than $554,000 for the year.

Part of the reason for the higher spending is related to the coronavirus pandemic, and part of the reason for less revenue is the decision to contract with Breathitt-Wolfe County EMS to handle a large number of the non-emergency transfers.

Currently, the interlocal agreement between the Winchester Board of Commissioners and the Clark County Fiscal Court is for the city to pay 55 percent of the ambulance service costs and for the county to pay 45 percent, but the county’s share is capped at $450,000.

During the Winchester/Clark County Joint EMS Committee meeting Monday night at City Hall, Mayor Ed Burtner suggested that the cap be removed.

County Magistrates Greg Elkins and Chris Davis and County Judge-Executive Chris Pace all pushed back against that idea.

Elkins said the cap was the only change to agreement the county has been able to effect, and although he would be open to raising the cap, he wouldn’t want to eliminate it.

Davis was adamant about keeping the cap, saying it was the county’s only protection against blowing up its own budget if the city were to decide to hire more employees or in some other way increase expenses beyond the county’s ability to pay. He called the county the “junior partner” in the relationship, and said that although the city pays for at least 55 percent of the expenses, it has “100 percent control.”

“I can tell you that as much as I would like to be able to continue the interlocal agreement, I’m going to have a hard time doing that if we don’t have some kind of hard cap each year,” Davis said.

Elkins seemed to think the 55/45 formula was outdated because of the growth of the city and its revenue base and the higher ambulance run volume inside the city limits.

Pace said it was simply a matter of the county’s ability to pay. He said the county can’t come close to matching the city in revenue, and one thing that has hurt the county’s revenue base is the city’s annexation of formerly unincorporated parts of the county, such as the lad where the new hospital and the new high school are, which means the city gets the payroll tax and net profits tax money.

Burtner responded that the city annexed those areas to keep from losing revenue because both the school and the hospital had been in the city and moved outside the city limits. Another reason the city’s revenue had grown, the mayor said, is that the commission had made hard decisions to raise taxes to meet its obligations and provide services.

The city’s members of the committee, Jo Ellen Reed and Ramsey Flynn, said little during the discussion but supported the mayor’s position.

Davis admitted that $450,000 is “probably too low,” and made a motion to raise the cap to $475,000 for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and raise it to $500,000 for the 2021-2022 fisal year.

The committee deadlocked 3-3, with all the county members voting in favor of the motion and all the city members voting against it.

The members decided to meet and discuss the issue again on Monday, April 12, at 5:30 p.m. at the Clark County Courthouse.