Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Local News

June 25, 2014

Taxing district proposal revisited

GLASGOW — Barren County Fiscal Court is likely to hear a proposal soon to create a special ambulance service taxing district.

The board members of Barren-Metcalfe Counties Emergency Medical Services, after haggling for months over whether to hire another crew of two people and other budget concerns, briefly considered the topic again at its regular meeting Wednesday. This time, though, they had a concrete number to mull.

During a meeting last month of the board's budget committee, the smaller panel decided to recommend to the full board a 2.5 percent salary increase for the staff and adding the additional crew, although this pair would work fewer hours than a regular crew. The full board decided after a nearly an hour of discussion – and a failed vote to amend the budget to allow for the extra crew but not the raise – to approve the budget as proposed by the committee.

The committee, however, had also decided to recommend asking Barren County Fiscal Court to consider a taxing district like the one Metcalfe County has had in effect for decades.

Metcalfe County uses that revenue stream to cover its obligation of 20 percent of the ambulance service's deficit; T.J. Samson Community Hospital pays 20 percent and the city of Glasgow and Barren County each pay 30 percent. The dollars come from the general funds in the Glasgow and Barren County budgets, and Glasgow Mayor Rhonda Riherd Trautman and Barren County Judge-Executive Davie Greer, both members of the ambulance board, have said it's tough to come up with the ever-increasing figures.

Greer is also part of the board's budget committee, and her task after that group's meeting was to consult with Barren County Property Valuation Administrator Brad Bailey to see what the tax rate would need to be to cover Glasgow’s and Barren County's combined portions of the deficit – more than $600,000.

She reported to the board Wednesday that the rate would need to be 3.2 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation. For a home assessed at $100,000, for example, the tax bill would be $3.20.

Greer asked the board members for their opinion.

“This board is the one that would have to approve it and take it to the fiscal court,” she said. “That's just food for thought.”

Board member Bill Bucher, also a member of the budget committee, said he knew the city was questioning whether it is paying a fair proportion of the deficit – typically between a quarter and a third of the total ambulance service budget, as that issue has been raised and discussed at other meetings.

“It would remove any question of whether they are or they aren't,” he said.

Board member and Edmonton Mayor Howard Garrett said he didn't feel it would be his place to suggest to Barren County it should pass a tax.

Greer said that may be true, but he is a member of the ambulance board and he could speak to how having the tax has helped in Metcalfe County.

“You're just lucky enough you got yours passed years ago,” she told him.

Board member and Metcalfe County Judge-Executive Greg Wilson asked whether the hospital would still be willing to pay its 20 percent if a tax were passed, and board member Follis Crow, who is also a member of the hospital's board, said he would assume they would. The hospital is obligated by agreement to continue with it's share, he said.

Crow said he believes the ambulance service is as important as the police and fire departments, and the taxing district should have started here when the service did in 1975. At that time, it was a ballot initiative that failed here.

Garrett asked whether someone could petition the Barren County fiscal court, and Greer said that's what she was asking the board to do.

“If we do bring it up, I would like to know that I have the backing of the board,” she said.

Board member Jason Coomer asked how soon she would like to go forward, “so we can get behind you.”

Greer said that in order to get it on the tax bills that go out this fall, it would need to happen soon. What she didn't mention is that her term as judge-executive is over at the end of the calendar year, and she is not seeking re-election.

Bucher said  he would hate to leave that meeting without a plan in place.

Garrett asked what the other members of the court, especially those seeking re-election, thought about it.

“I haven't polled anybody … ,” she said. “It is something I would like to see done.”

The group concluded the discussion by agreeing to call a special meeting to address it, and, at Greer's suggestion, the board will also address at that meeting whether to get an independent consultant to review the service's billing and other financial practices, which it contracts with a separate company to handle.

A date for the next meeting was not set, pending Trautman's getting in touch with a possible consultant to see when he could attend.

 Assistant Director Tim Gibson, who was accompanied in the audience by half a dozen other staff members of the service, said they did not get a raise last year, and he thought it was 1 percent the year before that.

“We're very pleased that the board has voted to give the employees a 2.5 percent raise, and also the addition of the day crew, which has been desperately needed and [which] Mr. Swift has asked for the last five years,” Gibson said.

“I'm pleased,” Swift said. “It's about time.”

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