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Ky. county, city officials spar over EMS funding, splitting service

Debate over funding of Somerset-Pulaski County EMS led county official to call the mayor’s position on EMS “propaganda”


Somerset-Pulaski County EMS/Facebook

By Christopher Harris
Commonwealth Journal

SOMERSET, Ky. — Fourth District Magistrate Mark Ranshaw referred to the City of Somerset’s position on the ongoing debate with county government over EMS funding as “propaganda” in a scathing criticism delivered at Tuesday’s Fiscal Court meeting.

After the fiscal court breezed through a light agenda with Pulaski Judge -Executive Marshall Todd not in attendance — Second District Magistrate Mike Wilson took his place overseeing the meeting’s business — Ranshaw concluded the meeting with a statement he had prepared regarding the EMS dilemma.

“I feel the best thing for EMS in the long run would be for the city to accept the available funds we have to offer,” said Ranshaw in his statement. “I believe anything else would be a major problem for this county as a whole and the last thing I would want ... is seeing unneeded deaths because we have to split EMS because of the mayor and some city council members feeling like they need to spread misinformation (propaganda) about the county not doing our fair share. It could cost every city and county resident dearly.”

The ability to properly staff the Somerset -Pulaski County EMS service, and to offer those first responders competitive pay, has been a hot topic locally in recent months, with discussions between the city and county governments seemingly putting the two entities at odds. With questions about the proportionate support each government is putting forward for EMS, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck has floated the idea of a special taxing district to help pay for the ambulance service, or in a worst-case scenario, even splitting the service between the two governments. County officials, meanwhile, have been less favorable to these proposed solutions while defending their contributions to EMS.

At Monday’s meeting of the Somerset City Council, Keck stated that he and Todd had been engaged in conversations over the issue and that he told the judge that if a resolution can’t be quickly reached, the city would start the process of pulling out of the current agreement.

“As the community knows, we had a Feb. 16 deadline on our proposal. They declined my last offer,” said Keck of the county government. “We had been negotiating in good faith, and I still think we are. The judge is looking at — one of the options was the county to take over the whole service or fund us larger. Another option was to split the services. I don’t want to speak for him, but we have made some progress, but we’re not quite at the finish line yet.

“I think the county is understanding that it’s a countywide service, not a city service. And in most communities the county is the operator of that countywide service,” he added. “So, part of the discussion is, does it make more sense for them to operate it and us supplement them instead of the 18% entity, which is the city — and I’m going by population — running it for the entire county and them supplementing us?”

Ranshaw started his statement by saying that it was background to the mayor’s comments on Monday night, and continued that the county’s responsibility is to provide $1.3 million annually to help with overrun cost that EMS can’t cover from income received from insurance and individuals.

"(T)he mayor stated that the city only had 18% of the population, but failed to say that the EMS calls are split roughly 50% city and 50% county,” said Ranshaw in his statement. “As day-to-day operation, they are responsible for the hiring, training, wages, and management of EMS. This was addressed years ago when the EMS service was split from where the fire department handle both fire and EMS services to what it is today. Back then they knew splitting up EMS to one for the city and one for the county would cause great problems for every resident in both the city and county.”

While wages are an issue, they’re not the only problem, said Ranshaw, who said that research shows Pulaski’s EMS service isn’t on either an extreme high or low side compared to other counties. Run volume, overtime hours, management, and a training course that’s only set up one night a week for 24 weeks are also concerns, noted the magistrate.

“The Mayor has put out this narrative — I call it propaganda — that the county is not providing its fair share even though the county has given more in investment to EMS over the last three years than required, with the purchase of six ambulances that we are still currently paying on and an extra $2,100,000 dollars worth of equipment, in which we are still holding $311,000 of that waiting for the mayor to decide what we should spend it on,” said Ranshaw. “All this above the $3,900,000 we agreed to pay over the last three years. I believe if you talk to the EMS heroes, they are very grateful for the updated equipment to keep them safe on the job.”

Ranshaw said that his feeling is a split EMS would not allow the county to get the management and highly-trained employees necessary to run a successful operation, and that the difference in hazardous pay and insurance would not bring in enough employees even if pay was raised.

“Unlike the city budget of close to or over $100 million a year, (with) the county only having a budget of around $50 million, there is no way we can afford such a demand ...” he said. “So with the inability to fully staff a new EMS staff and the difficulty to negotiate contract with insurance companies, Medicare, Medicaid, hospital and suppliers of the critical medicine and supplies needed, we feel that the ultimate result will be unnecessary deaths due to these things and the lack of well-trained individual to handle the calls.”

Following the reading of his statement, Ranshaw added that he himself had met with Keck and discussed options like the special taxing district. Ranshaw proposed a slight increase to the occupational tax that would have the majority of people working in the city to put in a dollar a week or less to help EMS.

“It wouldn’t hurt people (who are retired), because if you do a taxing district, that money go on property taxes, and I feel that would hurt the retired folks that have property and are on a fixed income,” said Ranshaw. "... (The occupational tax proposal) would generate the first year $800,000, the second year $1.6 million.”

Ranshaw said it’s his understanding that Keck doesn’t want to do that “even though it would raise more money than what he’s asking from the county right now.”

He added, “I think the propaganda has gotten to the point that I needed to make this statement, and I hope that the people of this county and city can see that the county is not the bad person in all this, that we are trying to help out EMS, and there are avenues out there that we can (take) to do that. But to split EMS, I don’t want to be any part of that. I think it would be terrible and bad for this county, whether you’re a city resident or not.”

Without Todd in attendance, Ranshaw said he appreciated the judge working with the city to explain the county’s side. He also asked the rest of the court if they wanted to make any comments; Third District Magistrate Jimmy Wheeldon and Fifth District Magistrate Mike Strunk both agreed that the split would be a bad idea.

“I serve on the EMS board, and I don’t see the losing money part,” said Wheeldon. “We hear all the time that they’re losing money, and I just can’t understand that. When I see the records and I know we do better than what’s told.”

Added Strunk, “We help out a bunch, and we know that. ... We hear that we don’t help at all, that the city’s having to foot the bill for it, and that’s not true at all. We all know that.”

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