Douglas County Commission approves paying greater share for emergency medical services; leader says it could add more than $2M to county’s budget

photo by: Dylan Lysen/Lawrence Journal-World

Tom Fagan, division chief of administration for Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical, speaks to the Douglas County Commission on Wednesday, June 23, 2021, about a new agreement between the City of Lawrence and the county on how to jointly fund the service.

Next year, Douglas County will begin paying more of the costs associated with operating Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical.

The County Commission on Wednesday approved a new agreement with the City of Lawrence that revises how to jointly fund and provide emergency medical services, with the county increasing the share that it pays. Under the agreement, some costs that the county had previously paid on its own will become shared with the city, but the county will also be paying for 36% of all of the shared costs, as opposed to the 25% it was responsible for under the previous agreement.

County Administrator Sarah Plinsky told the commissioners the change could result in an increase of more than $2 million to the county budget.

“This is a cost transfer from the City of Lawrence to Douglas County as a result of this agreement,” Plinsky said.

However, a definitive number was not yet available. Plinsky previously told the Journal-World the county was still in the process of crafting the 2022 budget, which would be the first under the new agreement.

The new version of the agreement updates an arrangement that was first put in place in 1996, when the city and county merged Lawrence’s fire service and the countywide emergency medical service to create LDCFM. The changes approved Wednesday are based on recommendations that the city and county received from a review of the department’s EMS services that was conducted by Wichita State University.

Under the old agreement, both the city and county had expenses they were fully responsible for, and the remaining expenses were split, with the city paying approximately 75% and the county paying about 25%. The county was fully responsible for EMS-only costs and the Eudora ambulance service staff, and the city was responsible for non-EMS and fire costs, according to the study. But under the new agreement, the cost for the Eudora ambulance service staff will become a shared cost and will be part of the 36%-64% split.

A report on the study provided to the city and the county showed that the study came up with the new funding formula based on the percentage of personnel assigned to direct ambulance services, 36%, and the personnel assigned to fire apparatus, 64%. Tom Fagan, division chief of administration for LDCFM, told the commissioners that the split could also be changed in the future if those percentages changed over time.

“This is a much more data-driven and scientifically built model,” Fagan said. He noted that the 75%-25% split in the old version of the agreement originated from how much the city and county were each spending on services at the time of the merger in 1996 and that the percentages hadn’t been updated since that time.

Additionally, the agreement now has the county paying part of an internal service fee to the city, which covers administrative expenses provided by the city such as IT and payroll services. The county will also pay 36% of the administrative fee.

Along with the cost-sharing change, Plinsky said the new agreement would improve the shared governance of the department. She said the agreement codifies many governance procedures that were previously informal as well as creating new oversight, such as a new governance committee that will meet regularly.

Commissioner Patrick Kelly noted that there was significant collaboration between the city and county to create the new agreement, because the arrangement that it overhauled was fairly complex.

“I’ve heard from the public, ‘Can the city and county just get along and work together?'” Kelly said. “This is the city and county working together.”

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