Thursday, September 23, 2004

Action urged on paramedics


Kenton County Fiscal Court notes 'much has changed'

By Cindy Schroeder
Enquirer staff writer

Supporters of a special taxing district that would pay for life-saving paramedic service starting next July increasingly say that Kenton County Fiscal Court should take a leadership role in resolving the issue.

Fort Mitchell City Council unanimously approved a resolution Monday that calls for county officials to "step up to the plate'' and come up with a way to pay for advanced life support service on a countywide basis. Otherwise, local governments will continue to explore individual solutions, "weakening the potential for countywide cooperation and possibly diluting the backup services offered by a countywide provider,'' Fort Mitchell officials said.

Fort Wright Administrator Larry Klein said he expects that city to consider a similar resolution at its Oct. 13 meeting. And Villa Hills Mayor Mike Sadouskas, whose city is among those exploring an alternative to a special taxing district, said that he supports the sentiments expressed in Fort Mitchell's resolution.

"Given the fact that we're shooting for countywide paramedic service, we certainly do need more support than we've gotten from Fiscal Court so far,'' Sadouskas said. "We need to plead with them a little bit to step up to the plate.''

The issue arose two years ago, when TransCare of Kentucky Inc., a nonprofit corporation owned by St. Luke Hospital and St. Elizabeth Medical Center, told the Kenton County Fire Chiefs Association that it couldn't continue operating at a deficit. TransCare receives no tax dollars from local fire districts, relying instead on yearly subscription fees and insurance payments to pay for paramedic service.

"We have never been unwilling to work with the cities, and we are not unwilling now,'' said Scott Kimmich, Kenton County deputy judge-executive. "But so much has changed that we're dealing with a totally different issue than we were a year and a half ago.''

Former Kenton County Judge-executive Dick Murgatroyd initially had proposed that the county contract with TransCare and pay the first 25 percent, with the cities absorbing the rest of the cost, based on population. However, that changed with Murgatroyd's resignation last January to become Kentucky's deputy secretary of transportation and Covington's announcement late last year that it was starting its own paramedic service. That service started Aug. 22.

When the cities came back to the county more than a year after its initial offer, and said, "We'll take you up on your offer," circumstances had changed, Kimmich said.

"The judge made a commitment based on a countywide system,'' Kimmich said. "That all changed when the largest city in the county went independent. The cost rose dramatically.''

The Kentucky General Assembly also changed state law earlier this year, allowing fire districts that provide basic or advanced life support service - or both - to double the tax collected. Locally, the Independence Fire District voted in June to double its tax - largely so that it could start offering paramedic service next spring.

While the cities were studying the issue, local governments or fire districts representing 90,000 of Kenton County's 151,000 residents agreed to offer paramedic services or contract with others providing it, making establishment of a countywide system virtually impossible, Kimmich said.

At one time, 13 Kenton County cities had expressed interest in creating a paramedic taxing district, starting July 1, 2005. That service would have included two paramedic cars staffed around the clock, seven days a week. However, membership of the proposed district has dropped to seven northern and central Kenton County cities in recent months, as more local governments or fire districts have decided to offer the service on their own or contract with others offering the service.

The drop now means the special taxing district's proposed tax of 20 cents per $1,000 assessed value would pay for only one paramedic per shift, instead of the two originally proposed.

In late June, Kenton County cities and the fiscal court cobbled together a one-year contract with TransCare to buy time to come up with a permanent solution.

The Independence Fire District and Erlanger officials recently announced plans to offer paramedic service by next spring. Representatives of the Elsmere Fire Protection District have said they will likely contract with Erlanger for paramedic service, and the city of Edgewood, the Point Pleasant Fire District and the Crescent-Villa Fire Authority, representing Crescent Springs and Villa Hills, are leaning that way.

E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com




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