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Conflict emerges over funding ambulance program

by | Jun 21, 2023 | Latest

A future ambulance program offered by Wylie Fire-Rescue is yet to be ironed out because of disagreements between city staff and the Wylie City Council on how to handle the initial $3.5 million startup cost.

Currently, the city pays a third-party contractor — Paramedics Plus Texas — to staff two of its three ambulances. The proposal presented by City Manager Brent Parker would allocate resources in the upcoming fiscal year budget to cover any equipment, vehicle and personnel costs for ensuring the program could begin Oct. 1, 2024.

The contract with Paramedics Plus ends Sept. 30, 2024, said Parker during the Tuesday, June 13, meeting. To help cover the startup cost, a 3-cent property tax increase to the maintenance and operations rate was proposed along with directing extra revenue from sales tax and interest earnings to reduce a further hike of 5 cents.

Overall, with a 2-cent increase to the interest and servicing rate to cover bond issuances, the proposed tax rate is around $0.58 per $100 of assessed value compared to the no-new-revenue rate of about $0.53 per $100 of assessed value.

Almost immediately, Mayor Matthew Porter and some councilmembers balked at the rate hike and sought alternatives to fund the initiative. Porter specifically proposed allocating one-time expenditures, which received firm pushback from Parker and Finance Director Melissa Brown who said the practice was not fiscally sound because it categorized recurring expenses as one-time expenditures.

Brown said ratings agencies monitor cities’ allocations of surplus fund balance and it would likely result in a decrease from the AA+ rating S&P recently gave the city. Moody’s, another rating agency, also gave the city a AA+, which is right below the highest designation of AAA credit.

It would also hurt the city’s budget in future years, said Brown, because Porter was solely looking at the tax rate.

“You keep trying to get to a low rate,” Brown said. “You also need to look at it from a revenue generating viewpoint. We need a certain amount of revenue to cover programs and if you start pulling things out of our base budget now in order to relabel something as not being a recurring cost and it is a recurring cost, it hurts us in the future.”

Parker also voiced his frustrations because it was his understanding that councilmembers agreed to justify the tax increase during a prior executive session but appeared to get cold feet during the work session. He also could not cite any example of a for-profit EMS service operated by another municipality.

“We’ve got just a little over a year to do this, so if a majority of council has heartburn at this, then we need to have a different direction and different conversation,” Parker said. “We need to send out an RFP to find another provider or try and get this through.”

For the full story, see the June 21 issue of The Wylie News.

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