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Officials ponder funding options for Twin City Ambulance Service

Officials ponder funding options for Twin City Ambulance Service
Staff Reporter
South Fulton City Com-mission member Tony Perry has plenty to take to a meeting to discuss options for funding the Twin City Ambulance Service.
During a called meeting Monday evening, Perry was selected as the commission’s representative on an ad hoc committee formed last week after a town hall meeting hosted by the ambulance service board.
It was recently revealed that the Twin City Ambu-lance Service (TCAS) has reached a critical point in its financial condition.
The ambulance service’s revenues are derived from EMS billing (60 percent) and membership fees (39 percent). Voluntary membership fees of $10 per month are collected through utility billing from residents in Fulton, South Fulton and Hickman,  Ky., as well as some Fulton County, Ky., residents and a few businesses in the coverage area.
However, participation in the subscription member-ship program has steadily declined over time.
In the past, because revenues collected did not cover operational costs, the City of Fulton has subsidized a significant amount of expenses on behalf of the ambulance service. On Aug. 22, the Fulton City Commission adopted a municipal order which authorized Fulton’s city manager to enter into negotiations with TCAS partnerships to obtain ad-ditional funding to support the service.
If no agreement is reached, the additional funding previously provided by the City of Fulton will cease Nov. 22.
Elected officials and concerned citizens from Ful-ton, South Fulton, Hickman and Fulton County packed the Pontotoc Community Center in downtown Ful-ton Sept. 27 for a two-hour town hall meeting where a variety of funding options were discussed. Ultimately, moderator Milton Dean suggested the formation of an ad hoc committee comprised of representatives of all the entities involved and legal counsel.
The ad hoc committee is slated to meet today at 5 p.m. in Fulton, The Messenger has learned.
The South Fulton City Commission met in called session Monday evening to specifically discuss the ambulance matter and to choose its representative for the ad hoc committee. Vice Mayor Charles Moody, who presided in the absence of Mayor David Crocker, nominated Perry for the committee.
South Fulton city manager Debra Craig provided commissioners with some financial information from the ambulance service, including a comparison of ambulance utility billing payments that showed a sharp decline from 2010 to 2011 and a breakdown of ambulance service salaries.
She explained there have been recommendations about the municipalities involved dividing the cost four ways.
City commissioner Jeff Vowell, a former city manager who is now in the banking profession, said commissioners need to see audits and financial statements from the Twin City Ambulance Service and the City of Fulton in order to responsibly consider any option. He said in order to make a financial commitment with taxpayer money, they need to be able to fully grasp the deficiency.
Vowell said it would be irresponsible for the city to make a financial commitment without having all the financial information.
Moody pointed out the City of South Fulton has already set and adopted its budget for the next fiscal year. Vowell said that’s his point in seeking the more extensive financial information and he suggested there may be the need for a budget amendment.
Moody said many of his constituents are barely making ends meet and can’t afford to add $10 per month to their utility bills. He said he is not against it, but he knows many of his constituents don’t pay the voluntary fee now because they can’t afford it. Vowell said that sentiment is what has the ambulance service in its current situation and he said there is a need to educate the community.
Vowell said it is appropriate to explore various options, but he reiterated that those involved need to be able to evaluate all the financial figures.
Offering options
South Fulton city attorney Karl Ivey was not able to attend Monday’s called meeting at the South Fulton Municipal Complex, but he offered some suggestions in a memorandum sent to Mrs. Craig on Friday.
Ivey said he is not certain that the ambulance service, as currently constituted, is independent from Fulton. He said there is a good argument that can be made that some subsidizing of the Fulton Fire Department is occurring as a result of the ambulance service employees being part of that department, adding that an accounting would be required to refute or prove this perception.
He also said one possible funding mechanism would be to require Parkway Regional Hospital in Fulton to assist with funding, pointing out that every ambulance trip delivering patients generates revenue.
Ivey said the City of South Fulton has a long history of supporting services which are deemed beneficial to its residents. These services received voluntary payments from the taxes paid into the General Fund and were then authorized to be paid as part of the city’s annual budgets. The city commission can authorize the payment of funds of taxes collected in the General Fund for such purposes as supporting the ambulance service.
He said the city has various mechanisms to create revenue for the General Fund and they could be used (increased) to bring in the necessary funding for all city expenditures.
Ivey also said the city should consult the Tennessee Municipal League to see what other cities in Tennessee have done in supporting or raising funds for an ambulance service.
Vowell said it’s all about finding a long-term solution to the problem and he hopes common sense will prevail. He said these are tough economic times for everyone and, “although the membership numbers don’t reflect it,” many residents of the Twin Cities feel strongly about the need to keep their ambulance service.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at Published in The Messenger 10.4.11

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