Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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June 16, 2014

City, county leaders discuss shared services

Corsicana — Things got heated at the joint city-county budget meeting Monday at the Corsicana Government Center.

However, the discord wasn’t between the members of the Corsicana City Council and the Navarro County Commissioners, for whom the meeting was arranged.

Instead, the disagreements were between city resident Ann Massey and Corsicana City Manager Connie Standridge, and then, the County Auditor Kathy Hollomon and Standridge.

All of it boils down to three issues: Is the city right in making the county help pay for losses the city realizes for providing ambulance service? Is the city overcharging for those losses? And is the city getting good service from the billing company?

The first two issues have been problems for years between the city and the county.

In a nutshell: The city has various separate funds, including a general fund, an ambulance fund, a utility fund and a even a cemetery fund, where the money can’t travel back and forth. However, the city charges those funds for providing “services,” like personnel, accounting, and rent. That money goes into the general fund and is used to support other city functions, like the street department or parks.

The ambulance fund has been in existence for 12 years, and only about three or four years of that time did the city take out its “administrative” charges from the fund, because the ambulance fund has generally been in the red most of that time, Standridge said.

Another way the city has of making non-tax money is by charging companies, like the gas, electric and cable, to do business within the city. It’s called a franchise fee, and the city argues it should be able to charge the ambulance fund that same 3 percent fee.

The city hasn’t taken the franchise fee out of the ambulance fund, but it could, theoretically. County Auditor Kathy Hollomon spoke up Monday morning to say that the franchise fee wouldn’t work outside the city because the county doesn’t have a franchise fee, even theoretically.

Although the city hasn’t always taken the money for the administrative costs or the franchise fee, they do count those against the ambulance’s losses, right along with the cost of fuel and bandages, and each year asks the county to help supplement the ambulance service for those losses.

Since 30 percent of all the ambulance calls are to the county, the city wants the county to foot 30 percent of the costs of the service. That means the county would need to pay $429,317.27 to supplement next year’s EMS services, according to calculations shared at Monday’s meeting. Hollomon claims that the county is being overcharged for the “loss” of the franchise fees, in theory, by about $40,000 to $45,000.

In the current budget year, the county agreed to pay $275,000 as its share of the ambulance subsidy. The city had requested $350,000, and calculations presented at Monday’s meeting claimed the needed amount was actually $376,687.93.

The request for the coming budget year is $430,000, Standridge said, based on the calculations given to the county Monday.

Standridge told county leaders that the city is currently in negotiations for a new ambulance billing service. It’s talking to two different firms, one from Kentucky, one from New York, and there are pluses and minuses for both, she said.

Massey questioned some of the billing practices of the current ambulance billing service, Intermedix, which the city manager said wasn’t an issue for the city council and county commissioners.

County leaders were also briefed on requests it will make for other “shared services” the city provides to county residents, such as use of the library, animal shelter services, fire protection and investigations, prisoner transports and half the cost of the economic development director’s position. The city is requesting $180,000 to $200,000 for library services or consideration of a possible fee for county residents to use the city library; about $59,807 for animal shelter services; and between $250 and $300 for transport of mental patients by county deputies, although Sheriff Elmer Tanner said manpower shortages in the department may impact his agency’s ability to transport for the city. Charges for fire response and investigation services will continue to be billed on a per-call basis.

The discussions came at the beginning of the budget season for both the city and county. The certified tax rolls for property taxes, which are about one-third of the city’s income, and most of the county’s income, are due July 25.

—————

Janet Jacobs may be reached via email at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com.

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