By CHRIS MENEES
South Fulton’s city commission has made a financial commitment through the end of the current fiscal year to help the financially-distressed Twin City Ambulance Service.
During its monthly meeting Thursday evening, the South Fulton City Commission voted to make an initial commitment of $15,000 this month and $14,000 per month thereafter through June 30, 2012.
The action resulted from recent announcement that the Twin City Ambulance Service (TCAS) has reached a critical point in its financial condition.
The ambulance service’s revenues are derived from EMS billing and membership fees. 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 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 adopted a municipal order which 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 will cease Nov. 22.
Elected officials and concerned citizens from Fulton, South Fulton, Hickman and Fulton County met Sept. 27 in Fulton for a two-hour town hall meeting where a variety of funding options were discussed. Ultimately, moderator and ambulance board member Milton Dean suggested forming an ad hoc committee of representatives of all the entities involved and legal counsel.
The ambulance board and members of the ad hoc committee have since met several times, South Fulton city manager Debra Craig told her city’s commissioners Thursday evening.
Mrs. Craig explained the committee is asking the City of South Fulton to make an initial $15,000 commitment and $14,000 monthly thereafter. It was reported that Fulton, Hickman and Fulton County have already committed to funding.
South Fulton city commissioner Jeff Vowell opened lengthy discussion by indicating he still had many questions before making any kind of commitment. Dean was on hand to address questions that included those pertaining to the structure of a new organization for the ambulance service, personnel issues and even the possibility of Parkway Regional Hospital’s involvement in ambulance operation.
Vowell expressed con-tinued concern about the effect a financial commitment from the city would have on the residents of South Fulton and he said commissioners should be prepared to vote for a tax increase. He said it was not to be entered into lightly.
Dean explained all four governments — Fulton, South Fulton, Hickman and Fulton County — need to respond quickly due to a workforce dilemma and the Nov. 22 cut-off date. He said solicitation could still be made to business and industry for greater participation in contributing, but the ad hoc committee needs “a hard figure” from the governments in order to budget.
Vowell said he believes everyone agrees they need to find a way to make it viable to continue ambulance service in the Twin Cities area. He raised additional questions about whether it would be cheaper for the service to organize in Tennessee rather than Kentucky and whether the service could be housed free of charge in a city building rather than paying rent.
Vowell also said a plan cannot be put together in just 60 days’ time — from the time the ad hoc committee was formed until the Nov. 22 cut-off — and he said more time is needed. He recognized that Fulton has continually paid more over the years, but he said South Fulton city commissioners cannot levy any new tax until next year’s budget.
Vowell said the biggest question is why a plan cannot be devised to keep the ambulance service viable through the current fiscal year and then take more time to explore the options in-depth — rather than “just throwing it together in 60 days.”
Dean said all the concerns are valid and he said the committee has looked at every entity having a voice in the matter. He said there has been the added challenge of all four governments having their own rules, as well as the challenge of the state line.
Vowell said the economy is tight and the city is in a position of having to raise the money to make the financial commitment, adding that it should be done when a budget is being put into place for the fiscal year. South Fulton Mayor David Crocker said it’s difficult and he asked how the city would find its portion.
City attorney Karl Ivey emphasized that funding for Kentucky governments is quite different than funding for Tennessee governments, explaining that South Fulton has specific funds for city services and does not have the ability to take excess from other funds to use elsewhere.
Mrs. Craig said the city’s General Fund is on track, with “no extraordinary expenses.”
Vowell said he would be OK with supporting the ambulance service through the current fiscal year, through June 30, and emphasized he would still like to see Fulton’s hospital have a part in the plan. He said the hospital benefits from the service and should be concerned with its operation in the community.
He said the city would need to make up about $7,000 — the difference in the amount of voluntary ambulance service fees collected each month from the city’s residents — in order to meet a $14,000 monthly commitment. He said the city should be prepared for a loss in its General Fund if a commitment is made, adding he can also foresee a decrease in people paying their $10 per month voluntary ambulance fee if the city makes a commitment to provide the $14,000 regardless.
Vowell said it is difficult for the commission to make an educated decision in just 60 days when the ambulance service apparently has been in deteriorating financial condition for years. Dean said the difficulties were raised in early 2011, but Crocker said no one came to the South Fulton City Commission until just last month.
Vowell finally said he would be willing for the city to make a commitment through the current fiscal year and would be willing to take a loss in the General Fund to fund the service. He said there are probably other approaches which can be taken and said he could not make a commitment past July 1, 2012.
Vowell made the motion to commit to $15,000 this month and $14,000 per month thereafter through June 30, 2012. It was seconded by commissioner Tony Perry, with Crocker and commissioner Thomas Pettigrew joining Vowell and Perry in voting in favor. Vice Mayor Charles Moody was absent.
It was also decided that Pete Algee and David Lamb will remain as South Fulton representatives on the ambulance board.
In a related matter, the ambulance board met in called session Oct. 12 and authorized negotiations for the sale of the ambulance service and/or its assets to any interested parties.
In other action during Thursday evening’s near 90-minute long meeting, which was opened with the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer led by Perry, the commission:
• Set a called meeting for Monday at 5:15 p.m. at the municipal complex to vote on an issue raised about settling a lawsuit against the city.
Prior to Thursday’s regular meeting, commissioners adjourned into a closed executive session with legal counsel to discuss litigation that has been brought against the city. They met for 15 minutes before returning to regular session. Ivey said there was no vote and no decision during the closed meeting, and he announced the scheduling of Monday’s called meeting.
• Approved three items related to the annexation of property on Parker Road, adjacent to the current city limits of South Fulton, for Fulton Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
The commission first approved a plan of service for the annexation, recommended by the city’s Planning and Zoning Board, and then approved the first readings of ordinances to annex the church property along Parker Road and to amend the city’s zoning map to zone the annexed property.
• Adopted a debt management policy which establishes a set of parameters by which debt obligations will be undertaken by the city. It also signals to the public and rating agencies that the city is using “a disciplined and refined approach to financing capital needs” and fulfills state requirements regarding adoption of a policy.
• Adopted an internal financial controls policy, recommended by the Tennessee Municipal League, to safeguard public funds and provide clear instructions to city officers and employees as to how such funds should be processed and recorded.
• Heard concerns from three residents regarding burned-out property at 409 Williams St. in South Fulton and their continued efforts in trying to get the property cleaned.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 10.21.11