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Commission increases EMS budget for 2014

The dollars available for three of the four emergency services funded out of the one-half percent sales tax may have just gotten smaller.

Lawrence County Commissioners unanimously voted to add $300,000 to the budget of the Lawrence County Emergency Medical Services for 2014, although Commission President Bill Pratt voiced reservations about the motion of Commissioner Les Boggs to do so.

However, until the county budget commission certifies the revenue for 2014, no actual appropriation can be made by the commission, according to County Auditor Jason Stephens.

This year the county EMS received $1 million from the one-half percent sales tax to fund its $3,492,600 budget. The remainder comes from patient payments. Last week Boggs did not second a motion by Pratt to put before the voters a 2-mill levy that would have provided $1.6 million to the EMS annually for five years. Commissioner Freddie Hayes was not at that meeting but had publicly said he was against any new taxes.

The goal was to provide a known amount of funds for the agency annually. Without a second to the motion, the levy will not be on the November ballot.

“(Buddy Fry, EMS director) would like to have a number, a dedicated amount (of funding),” Boggs said. “EMS employees are very concerned (saying) ‘Do I need to get another job.’”

Then Boggs made the motion.

“This would (cover) insurance increases and maybe an ambulance,” he said.

Before seconding, Hayes said he was disturbed about comments that he is against emergency services since he did not support the levy.

“I ran on public safety and support the sheriff and the EMS to the fullest,” he said. “I am against raising taxes 100 percent. We have people who can’t afford their medicine. I feel very upset.”

Before Pratt voted, he said the motion is increasing the EMS budget by 30 percent.

“This is a tough one,” Pratt said. “This is going to put more strain on the other offices that get their budget from the half percent sales tax. These fellows have done something they probably shouldn’t have done.”

But saying he was not against the EMS, Pratt voted for the motion.

However, Stephens said the motion does not automatically translate to that amount going into the EMS budget for 2014.

“The budget commission has not certified any revenue for 2014,” Stephens said. “I don’t know the intention of the action, but as far as the technical aspect they can’t appropriate any money for the 2014 budget until the budget commission certifies there is revenue for 2014. As far as technically putting that in the budget, it is not an actionable item. I don’t want to be controversial. I want to be accurate. From a technical aspect, nothing has been certified therefore nothing can be appropriated.”

This year the half percent sales tax is certified to bring in $2.4 million to fund the EMS, sheriff’s office, 911 dispatching and the Emergency Management Agency. That plus a carryover of $373,295 made $2,773,295 available for appropriation for the four agencies. Of that $1 million is earmarked for the EMS, $625,000 for 911, $97,480 for EMA and $1,011,544 for the sheriff’s office.

That leaves $39,271 unallocated. If the EMS had been allocated $1.3 million in the 2013, that would have meant $260,728 in cuts to the other three agencies.

Each year the agencies have reduced the one-half percent fund’s carryover. In 2011, there was a carryover of $600,000. In 2012, that was reduced to $373,295. This year it is projected to be at $39,271.

“I don’t know how 911 and the sheriff’s office will be able to fund themselves,” Sheriff Jeff Lawless said. “There is only so much money the county has to pay for them. How are the others going to survive? You can’t rob Peter to pay Paul.”