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County could take over Rescue

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Newest proposal also gives city the right to take back control.

By Calen McKinney

The latest proposal to solve the issue of funding Rescue services has the county taking over its operation.

City and County officials will discuss a proposal created by City Attorney John Miller that calls for the city to transfer operation of Rescue to the county - with the stipulation that if Council members don't like how magistrates operate the service, it can be transferred back.

On Tuesday night, a joint committee of Campbellsville City Council members Randy Herron and Dr. Jimmy Ewing and Magistrates James Jones and John Gaines met with Miller, County Attorney John Bertram, Campbellsville Mayor Tony Young and Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers to discuss Rescue and E-911.

To begin the meeting, Young said Miller had something he wanted to present to the committee.

Miller said he believes the Fiscal Court's last proposal to take over either Rescue or E-911 - which the City Council voted to reject - was made in good faith.

But a concern with turning over Rescue to the county, he said, is that Council members are happy about the quality of the service and want to see that continue.

Miller said Bertram has told him that his conversations with magistrates have revealed that they have no intention of making any major changes in the operation of Rescue.

Miller said that would mean ambulance services wouldn't be contracted to another company and that Rescue would be run essentially as it is now.

With those thoughts in mind, and after receiving some legal questions from Councilman Stan McKinney, he began researching if it would be possible for the city to lease Rescue's equipment and building to the county.

Miller said McKinney also asked if an agreement could be created that would allow the city to take back operation of Rescue if it was unsatisfied with how the Court was operating the service.

Miller said he wants to discuss the possibility of creating such an agreement, though he is not presenting the idea as something that has already been approved by the Council.

"This is brainstorming and an idea I want to throw out to all of you," he said.

In his proposal, Miller said, an interlocal agreement would be created to allow the county to operate Rescue.

"Essentially, the county would just step into the city's shoes," he said.

At that point, he said, the county would have discretion as to how to run the service but basically operate the same way it is now and not farm the service out to a third party.

In the contract, if unsatisfied, the city would have the right to take the service back. Miller suggested that if that did happen, the city take over the service at the beginning of the next fiscal year.

In the contract, E-911 would be run entirely by the city. All of its employees would be city employees and landline and cell phone surcharge funds would be used to fund the operation, with the City absorbing any shortfall. The current shortfall is about $380,000.

If the contract is approved, he said, he believes it would be good for a Council member to become a part of the Court's Fire Protection and Emergency Services Committee to offer advice on the operation of Rescue. He said that would allow both entities to understand any changes that might be made within the Rescue operation.

"It seems like if this were to take place, we would have a situation where we wouldn't be sharing money anymore," he said. "And so there's probably not much room for argument and disagreement."

The only area in which the sharing of money would be involved, he said, would be contributions to the Campbellsville/Taylor County Economic Development Authority. Miller said it might be good to add that contribution in the agreement.

Jones asked if the proposal could be given for him to take to the other Court members to discuss.

All magistrates attended Tuesday's meeting except Ed Gorin, but only the members of the committee - Jones and Gaines - spoke.

Miller said he doesn't expect Jones and Gaines to speak for the other magistrates. He only wants to suggest the proposal for discussion.

"Is this an idea that's worth exploring?" Miller asked.

Before answering, Jones said he wanted to make a statement on his own behalf.

"The thing that is lacking is trust," he said. "I have to be honest with you, that bothers me."

He said the Court has made good faith motions believing that the Council would take them in good faith.

"When you read things about where somebody says, you know, in a meeting that we've misappropriated funds from the occupational tax, I mean, that is totally untrue."

At the Council's last meeting last Thursday, Councilwoman Patti Phillips said the city allowing the county to take over Rescue would be irresponsible.

"They've mismanaged [the occupational tax]," she said, adding that the county could mismanage Rescue as well.

Phillips and other Council members attended Tuesday's meeting but didn't speak.

Jones said he and Gaines have been magistrates for nine years, and no one has ever accused them of mismanaging occupational tax money.

He said the Court meets every three months to discuss its budget, and County Treasurer Melissa Williams points out any areas of concern.

"We keep our eyes on our budget. Every one of us," he said. "I want to say, 'Where is your proof?'" he said. "That hurts. We're six honest men ... we're not out there trying to flimflam anybody."

Jones questioned why the county would be given Rescue only until a certain date or until the city has a problem with the way it is run.

"I mean why? When we say that we'll take Rescue, we've got sense enough to know we've got the best Rescue in the state," he said. "I know how this Rescue works."

Jones said the Court isn't coming into the discussion with the idea of throwing Rescue "to the dogs." He said he has also not heard any magistrate say that they would cut Rescue's budget by $200,000.

"How would we know?" he said.

Jones said the Court has no intention of firing anyone at Rescue or making any other big changes.

"I'm just saying, we need to trust each other," he said.

Miller said he believes the city only wants to make sure the quality of Rescue remains the same. He said the provision isn't intended to say there is a lack of trust between the Court and Council but as a way to settle the issue.

"Why can't you just take our word?" Jones asked.

Miller said he doesn't have a vote in the matter but that he believes the proposal is a way to solve the issue of Rescue and E-911 funding once and for all. He said asking for a provision to allow the city to reclaim Rescue operation could be seen as diligence on the Council's part.

"I see your point," Jones said. "I disagree with you."

Miller said some residents could ask Council members why they just gave Rescue to the county without knowing what will happen to the service. He said an option to reclaim the service would create some safeguards.

Jones said he believes everyone wants what's best for the community. He said he doesn't want residents to worry about whether Rescue will be there for them in an emergency.

"I think we all want to get this thing solved," he said. "We want to quit having it in the newspaper. I don't like that, to be honest with you. I don't like for the people to say the city and county are bickering. We're not bickering. We're trying to solve something that should have been solved years ago."

Jones said he would like to be able to take the proposal to the Court for its consideration.

When the city levied its occupational tax, Rogers said, "We stepped out to help you all. We're doing all of your occupational tax. And for someone to say that we're misusing occupational tax ... every quarter we send you everything that has been collected.

"You know who catches the flack from the occupational tax for the city? The county does."

He said it's "ludicrous" for anyone to say the county has misused tax money.

"In my term, do you know how much the city has helped the county as far as funds? Does anyone know? I can tell you. A big goose egg, el zero as far as money coming back to the county.

If Rescue is transferred to the County, Gaines asked if the City would still need its entire 1 percent occupational tax. If costs continue to increase, he said, and the Court needed to raise its own occupational tax, it wouldn't be able to because residents are already paying two 1 percent taxes.

He said he doesn't know if the Court will approve the proposal.

"I really didn't want any of this," he said. "What I was trying to do is split this agreement where we don't have to come up here again. And I was willing to sacrifice one or the other to do that."

If the proposal is approved, Ewing asked if current Rescue employees, who would become county employees, would keep their seniority after the transfer.

Bertram said that issue hasn't been discussed, but he believes Rescue would become its own department and that it could determine its employees' seniority.

The committee agreed that details such as that and retirement benefits, vacation time, a certificate of need to provide the Rescue service and billing should be addressed in the proposed interlocal agreement. They agreed that the transition period could be the most difficult part of the agreement.

Ewing said he believes the proposal would solve the problem once and for all and not create a discussion like the current one every two years.

 

After the meeting

Young said he believes there is progress being made toward reaching an agreement and that makes him excited.

"I think we've all realized it's time to get this behind us," he said.

Young said the option of the city providing Rescue and E-911 service only inside the city limits hasn't been researched because he believes that isn't the best solution to the issue.

Rogers declined to comment on Miller's proposal, saying that it will be up to magistrates to decide.

 

Up next

The Council will meet in special session tonight at 7 p.m. at its meeting room above the Campbellsville Police Department to discuss Miller's proposal.

The Fiscal Court's next special meeting is set for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at the Taylor County Courthouse to open annual bids and discuss the 2011-2012 budget. Rogers said a proposal from the Council could be added to the meeting's agenda.

Before that meeting will be a hearing at 5:15 p.m. to hear public comment on the county's Local Government Economic Assistance fund.

All of the meetings are open to the public.