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SF commission seeks answers in ambulance deal

SF commission seeks answers in ambulance deal

By CHRIS MENEES
Staff Reporter
With a possible answer pending to save the financially-troubled Twin City Ambulance Service, the South Fulton City Commission still has some questions.
The commission met in called session Thursday evening for the sole purpose of discussing a recommendation for the Twin City Ambulance Service (TCAS).
It was recently revealed that the ambulance service had reached a critical point in its financial condition. TCAS revenues are derived from EMS billing and membership fees, but participation in a voluntary subscription membership program has steadily declined.
In the past, because revenues collected did not cover operational costs, the City of Fulton subsidized a significant amount of expenses on behalf of the ambulance service. On Aug. 22, the Fulton City Commission authorized Fulton’s city manager to enter into negotiations with TCAS partnerships to obtain additional funding to support the service.
If no agreement is reached, additional funding previously provided by the City of Fulton would cease Nov. 22.
Numerous meetings have been held in recent days by both the ambulance board and an ad hoc committee of city officials formed following a town hall meeting Sept. 27 in Fulton. The city governments have also held special meetings and pledged support for the Twin Cities area’s much-needed ambulance service.
Last weekend, the Twin City Ambulance board received a lease proposal from Parkway Regional Hospital in Fulton.
The proposal came in the form of a letter dated Saturday from Parkway CEO Rob Calhoun to the Twin City Ambulance Service and details the commitments needed from all involved.
Thursday evening’s called meeting of the South Fulton City Commission opened with city manager Debra Craig telling about the ambulance board’s recommendation for the proposal from Parkway Regional. Vice Mayor Charles Moody presided in the absence of Mayor David Crocker.
The hospital’s proposal asks for a $363,000 ongoing annual subsidy from Fulton, South Fulton, Hickman, Ky., and Fulton County, Ky., and there is also an adjustment for $16,000 in ambulance maintenance costs, bringing the annual total to $379,000.
It has been proposed that the subsidy be split equally four ways — or $7,895.83 per month ($94,750 annually) from each of the four entities.
Mrs. Craig said she talked to the hospital CEO about the possibility of amending some things, but she cautioned any changes would delay the process and possibly interrupt service. Apparently there was initially some discussion about South Fulton funding a 19 percent share rather than 25 percent since the city’s response and ambulance pick-up rates are lower than those of the other entities.
Calhoun said the analysis was originally broken down based on ambulance run rates; however, based on population, he said the ambulance board preferred to split it four ways at 25 percent for each entity.
City attorney Karl Ivey said one of the problems is the South Fulton service area includes many residents outside the city limits. He said it is not fair to South Fulton’s citizens to do a fixed rate, placing an “undue burden” on them, when there is no ability to tax those outside the city limits. He said if there is a shortfall each month from what is collected on utility billing for voluntary ambulance subscriptions vs. what the city is asked to subsidize, the city will have to tax its citizens to pay it.
Ivey also mentioned the need for better marketing of the ambulance service, suggesting there be some advantage for subscribers for participating over a long period of time. He said there is no penalty for those who don’t pay.
City commissioner Jeff Vowell posed a number of questions regarding the proposed 25 percent split and whether it’s fair to South Fulton. He suggested the city continue paying as it currently does and said it is a vehicle for collecting the funds.
Vowell said his idea to continue “as is,” in theory, should collect more than what is being sought and he said he was confused why the city commission was meeting. He said continuing in the existing manner with the addition of funding from Fulton County should bring in the money needed.
Vowell said the ambulance board needs to have another meeting to discuss the issue further. He said the proposal, as presented, is not a long-term solution but rather a “short-term fix.” He said it hurts the city and those involved need to devise a sensible plan.
Calhoun asked what the hospital needs to do and Vowell responded by saying the hospital’s proposal is clear and it is not the hospital’s issue. Calhoun said the hospital wants to help and brought the proposal to the table, adding they are open to changes which would come from the ambulance board.
Vowell also said those involved are now “90 percent in the right direction” in finding a solution. He said he would not propose any changes on the hospital’s end of the proposal.
Vowell said he is optimistic, but he said there has to be some agreement and the subsidy split needs to be done correctly. He said the hospital made it possible and there now needs to be a meeting of Fulton, South Fulton, Hickman and Fulton County officials, the ambulance board and the ad hoc committee.
Calhoun also suggested the hospital could audit the ambulance runs at the end of the year and adjust percentages accordingly at the end of the year.
Vowell reiterated that everyone is committed to making the plan work, but he said those involved “need to hammer it out.” He proposed there be an ambulance board meeting to discuss the subsidy split for meeting the $379,000.
Commissioner Tony Perry, who is serving on the ad hoc committee, said everything else is fine and the question raised has nothing to do with the hospital. Vowell said he would be more comfortable in saying how the entities will split the deficiency if there is a shortfall.
Moody made a motion to table any action by the commission, but it never drew a second, and Vowell again asked if the ambulance board could meet.
Prior to the hospital proposal, the South Fulton City Commission voted at its Oct. 20 session to make a financial commitment through the end of the current fiscal year to help the ambulance service. Commissioners approved an initial commitment of $15,000 this month and $14,000 per month thereafter through June 30, 2012.
City recorder Debbie Beadles asked about last week’s financial commitment and whether it needed to be paid in light of the new proposal. The commission approved Vowell’s motion to amend last week’s commitment of $15,000 now and $14,000 per month thereafter, conditional upon the other communities making the same commitment with the ambulance service. Moody abstained from the vote.
Ultimately, Perry asked if there could be a meeting with everyone involved to settle the matter and Mrs. Craig said she would ask, adding that the ambulance board probably needs to call the meeting.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at cmenees@ucmessenger.com.

Published in The Messenger 10.28.11

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