City-county EMS budget discussion to continue

Published 11:13 am Thursday, March 16, 2017

For 25 years, the City of Winchester and Clark County have shared the cost of providing ambulance service to the city and county.

Every quarter, the two governments settle up and the county issues a check to the city for its share of the deficit.

The arrangement, though, leaves some county magistrates feeling as if they have no control over the EMS budget, but are expected to pay a fluctuating amount every quarter.

Tuesday evening, the Winchester Board of Commissioners and Clark County Fiscal Court met in joint session to start the discussion and see if there is a better way.

After two hours of discussion and a presentation by Winchester Fire-EMS Chief Cathy Rigney, the matter was sent back to the revenue sharing committee of two county magistrates and two city commissioners, to explore further.

Part of the problem is a scheduling issue. The Clark County Fiscal Court’s budget must be approved about two months earlier than the city’s. The numbers presented to the fiscal court are an estimate and subject to change after the county approves its budget.

“We estimated that our (EMS) budget situation would be at $515,000,” Magistrate Daniel Konstantopoulos said. “We’re looking to be about $100,000 over that. We’re kind of an open checkbook to pay the deficit but we don’t have any control.”

Rigney said revenue is down for this fiscal year because the department was short five paramedics in late 2016, which limited how many transfers the service could accept from Clark Regional Medical Center. With a full staff, the number of transfers is back up, she said.

“I think this past year was an extraordinary year,” Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner said. “We took a hit on our revenue. We took some hits on our equipment.”

According to the department, the city spends between $90,000 and $100,000 more annually than the county for EMS in the last three fiscal years.

“For every dollar you expend that’s not budgeted, it’s $1.12 from our budget,” Commissioner Shannon Cox said. “We watch it pretty closely.”

The other issue mentioned Tuesday is the payments fluctuate.

Since the Winchester Fire Department and Winchester-Clark County Ambulance Service merged in October 1990, the two governments have shared expenses of EMS service.

The inter-local agreement calls for the city to pay 55 percent of expenses less revenue, while the county pays 45 percent. Rigney said the split was based on the population between city and county residents in 1990. Based on current population, it would be 51-49 between city and county, respectively.

Konstantopoulos suggested restructuring the inter-local agreement with a set payment amount from the county.

Both entities are concerned about unanticipated expenses. In recent years, ambulances have blown engines, which cost several thousand dollars to replace. Rigney said the department has found it more economical to remount the ambulance body on a new chassis.

Other expenses vary as well.

“We can’t predict what the price of diesel will be next February,” Cox said.

“Say you put it at $515,000,” Commissioner Rick Beach said. “If at the end of the year, you’re $10,000 over, how would you reconcile that?

“Ultimately the taxpayers of Winchester will have to pick up the balance.”

It could also become problematic.

“I could see a scenario where the city commission would want a buffer for protection,” Burtner said, “so you might have a greater budget request coming to provide that buffer. What if one of those two parties didn’t agree? I see pitfalls. I see a scenario where the numbers might not be what you want, and yet the city is obligated to go forward.

“I see the desire to have that,” Burtner said. “I’m not sure how to go about doing that.”

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun, the Jessamine Journal and the State Journal. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email fred.petke@bluegrassnewsmedia.com or call 859-759-0051.

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