The county is checking accounting procedures and considering lump sum annual payments from the city for future ambulance service instead of monthly bills.
Prior discussions between the city and the county regarding interlocal agreements for ambulance service spurred the county into researching municipal service funds, Morgan County Councilman Robert Kilmer said.
“The municipal service fund is one option to do accounting for emergency services and how they relate to the city,” Kilmer said. “But it is not necessary. We are leaning away from the municipal fund because it is not necessary, not that it is a bad tool.”
He said Morgan is not required by state code to have a municipal service fund, which separates certain restricted funds and budgets from the general fund. As a fifth-class county with a population under 10,000, Morgan is exempt from the requirement. In the event the county could not cover all ambulance expenses using a municipal service fund, taking money out of the general fund to cover overruns would be “more difficult,” Kilmer said, and could necessitate borrowing money.
The county currently uses the general fund to pay for ambulance expenses and collect fees, using a line item for both revenues and expenditures, said Stacy Lafitte, county clerk/auditor. Using a municipal service fund, the revenue and expenditure lines would have to balance, she said.
“With that structure, it won’t work,” Lafitte said. “We spend way more than we bring in.”
Lafitte also advised county council members to consider costs for management expenses, salaries, insurance, fleet, tires, gasoline and Worker’s Compensation that come from other budgets when figuring out how much the county pays for ambulance service.
Kilmer said the city’s main concern is the ability to budget for ambulance services when costs fluctuate widely each month. He suggested a committee review expenses quarterly and determine the city’s portion of the cost to be paid yearly. The committee would include Lafitte, Kilmer, Councilman Logan Wilde, Councilman Lyle Nelson and County Treasurer Bonnie B. Thomson.
“The people in the city I have talked to would like to have a budget set for the year,” Kilmer said. “We need to review it more often and determine if we are doing a good job setting that amount.”
County Attorney Jann Farris advised the county not to create too much work for itself.
“The city is overstating their negotiation position in this. They are coming to you asking for separate line items when you are the ones with the sheriff’s office. You are the ones with the ambulance, and you are the ones with a fire truck. They either start their own, or they work with you. They are at your mercy to contract with you if they want to,” Farris said. “You don’t want them to create too much red tape or work for you. The city doesn’t get to pick this number.”
“We need to make sure we are accounting in a way we can negotiate a good number that is going to protect the county, not give the city access to everything we do,” he said.
Kilmer cautioned against confusing a municipal service fund with “any type of service district.”
“A service fund is an accounting practice, while a service district is another layer of government,” Kilmer said.
Kilmer said the county needed time to make sure its accounting processes were set up properly before changing the agreement with the city.