Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Kenton medical debate ongoing

County paramedic service discussed

By Cindy Schroeder
Enquirer staff writer

INDEPENDENCE - A plea for Kenton County officials to resolve a nearly 2-year-old stalemate on how to pay for paramedic service ended with both sides expressing frustration Tuesday.

A countywide paramedic service would be cheaper and more efficient than having four entities provide the service on a permanent basis as is now proposed, Fort Mitchell Mayor Tom Holocher, the chairman of the Kenton County Mayors Group, told members of Kenton Fiscal Court on Tuesday. A countywide system would ensure that people who routinely travel through different parts of the county would have the same coverage, he said.

Calling upon county officials to "take a leadership role,'' Holocher asked the Kenton Fiscal Court to form a taxing district and impose a tax of 10 cents per $1,000 assessed property value for paramedic service. That's less than the 20 cents per $1,000 assessed property value that most Kenton County taxpayers would be paying under the proposed set-up that would kick in next July, he said. Holocher added the county could refund Covington's portion of the tax, as that city started its own paramedic service on Aug. 22.

"Quite frankly, a group of us are at an impasse,'' Holocher said. "I think for everybody to (maintain) the quality of life and keep the cost down, it just makes sense" to go with a countywide paramedic system.

But the three county commissioners said support for a countywide service collapsed when Kenton County cities and fire districts were unable to reach agreement on a countywide paramedic tax last year.

Kenton County Commissioner Adam Koenig said he and his fellow commissioners initially were willing to put a paramedic tax on the ballot this year, but since early 2003, various Kenton County cities and fire districts have decided to start four different paramedic services.

"I agree with what you're saying in principle, but the 'we' is no longer the large 'we' anymore,'' Kenton County Commissioner Barb Black told Holocher. With 92,000 of Kenton County's 151,000 residents out of the mix, a county-funded paramedic service no longer makes sense, she said.

"Far be it for us as a county to exercise some type of authority to say to these cities, 'You've got it wrong,' " Black said.

A frustrated Holocher later said the county commissioners need "to act as leaders'' and impose a countywide tax.

He said the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and most Kenton County cities would support that action.

"If you're willing to put the issue on the ballot, all you're saying is, 'I'm just going to let the people decide,' " Holocher said. "Maybe they've elected you to make the decisions for them.''

The issue arose two years ago when TransCare of Northern 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.

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.

At one time, 13 Kenton County cities had expressed interest in creating a paramedic taxing district, starting July 1, 2005.

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.

So far, Covington, the Independence Fire District and Erlanger have decided to offer paramedic service, and the cities of Elsmere, Edgewood, Villa Hills, Crescent Springs and the Point Pleasant Fire District have said they want to contract with Erlanger, although none have signed a contract yet.

Ralph Drees, a former Erlanger city official who was appointed Kenton County judge-executive earlier this year, offered Tuesday to meet with Erlanger Administrator Bill Scheyer to see "how set they are'' in pursuing their own paramedic service.

"I'm definitely willing to sit down with Judge Drees and discuss the issue,'' Scheyer said after Tuesday's Fiscal Court meeting. He declined to say more until he hears what Drees has to say.


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