Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

March 24, 2014

City eyes increases for services to county

By Bob Belcher
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — The costs of some city services provided to county residents is likely to go up next year.

That's according to discussions between city and county leaders Monday afternoon, and talks during a city council workshop Monday night.

In a Monday night workshop, Corsicana City Manager Connie Standridge asked city leaders to give her some direction on what to ask the county to pay in the coming year for services such as library, animal control, economic development, fire protection, and the costliest of them all — ambulance services.

City and county leaders both agreed Monday to a new timeline for decisions about the EMS agreement — by August 1 of each year. It gives both city and county leaders a better time frame to make budget decisions on the costs of those services and renewing or canceling the contract to provide ambulance service to residents outside the city of Corsicana.

Still to be decided is how the subsidy the county pays for the service will be calculated.

Standridge told county leaders the city's ambulance service was still experiencing cash shortages and that the expected subsidy the county will be asked to pay next year be more than the $275,000 it paid this year.

The city had initially asked for $350,000, and later upped that request to $450,000.

Standridge said the cash position of the EMS fund is $1.4 million in the red, due to three years of expenses for the department running higher than the revenues being generated. The addition of personnel, and reimbursing the city’s general fund for administrative oversight of the fund have also added to the expenses of the EMS fund, while overall transports — and resulting revenue — has been on a three-year decline.

Collection performance by the company that does billing for the city’s EMS service was also cited as a reason for the declining performance of the fund.

Fixing the financial condition of the service is likely to take several years, Standridge said.

“We're willing to share that burden with you, but it will take more than the $275,000 you gave us last year,” she said.

The ambulance subsidy request for the coming year will likely be at least $450,000 based on the current financial condition of the ambulance fund.

Ann Massey called on the city to use the services of a collection firm to try to clean up the EMS fund's old accounts, and questioned the city's policy of not writing off uncollected debts until they were a year old. She said the current billing firm was not working all claims properly or on a timely basis.

Standridge said the city was going to re-bid the contract for ambulance billing this year. She acknowledged the company had made some mistakes and was “not perfect.”

“We need to do a better job with our collections and pay our way, and the county pay their way,” Pct. 1 Councilman Tom Wilson said during Monday night’s council workshop.

Increasing the library subsidy, or consider charging for library cards for county residents — or a combination of both scenarios — was also discussed by city council members in their work session.

According to figures supplied Library Director Chad Freeze, county residents make up 39 percent of the circulation services of the city library. Council members agreed Monday the county should pay that same percentage of the library’s annual budget of $477,000 — which would mean the county’s share would be $188,000. Last year, the county paid the city $30,000 for county residents to use the library. Should the county not fund the $188,000 figure, county residents could be asked to make up the difference through the cost of a library card or a charge for “per use” services from the library, said Mayor Chuck McClanahan.

An increase in the cost of animal shelter services for the county was also discussed. Corsicana Police Chief Randy Bratton said based on the number of animals brought in to the shelter, the county’s share to cover services provided would be $59,000 annually — up from the $30,000 paid in the current budget by the county. Increasing the cost to impound animal from the county was also discussed as an option, but some council members feared that move could lead to more animals being “dumped” rather than brought to the shelter for humane treatment.

“We’ve made a lot of strides in the humane treatment of animals over the last several years ... I hope we continue that,” Wilson said.

No changes were suggested to the current agreements calling for the county to pay half of the costs for economic development services; per-call costs of $250 for fire department response to fires in the county; and no change in the current agreement for the transport of mental and juvenile detainees by county sheriff’s deputies. The city pays $250 for each transport ($300 if two deputies are required) and both city and county officials agree the arrangement is working for them.

The topic of a long-standing city/county agreement for the housing of the city’s Class C prisoners in the county jail was brought up in the joint city/county meeting and in the council workshop, but the city has maintained its action abandoning a portion of North 12th Street to make room for the construction of the current Justice Center included a “perpetual” agreement the county to house the city prisoners at no charge.

In its regular agenda meeting Monday night, the city council approved several ordinance changes on regulations for signs and banners, satellite dishes, fencing, window and door coverings in the downtown district, bamboo growth on private property, and fencing.

Council also approved a zoning change to allow for the construction of a Family Dollar store on vacant property on North 13th Street near the Corsicana Housing Authority.

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Bob Belcher may be reached by email at bbelcher@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com