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EMSA Fund Transfer as High as $2 Million

TULSA, Okla. -- EMSA has been transferring funds from its Tulsa division to subsidize operations in Oklahoma City for at least seven years with amounts owed as high as $2 million, records show. Meanwhile, the agency announced plans Monday to be more transparent with its financial information, including monthly visits to Tulsa City Council meetings.

The Emergency Medical Services Authority is a government agency that manages ambulance services for more than 1 million people in Tulsa, Sand Springs, Jenks and Bixby, as well as Oklahoma City and numerous suburbs in that area. The agency receives about $4.8 million a year from a monthly utility bill fee paid by Tulsans.

It also receives revenues from a utility bill fee in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City officials were rankled last week after learning the agency's western division owed $800,000 to the eastern division, requiring interest payments.

In an earlier letter, City Manager Jim Couch had asked EMSA CEO Steve Williamson to notify city officials immediately if expenses would exceed revenues. Officials in Tulsa have also expressed concern about the transfers, saying they do not want tax money from Tulsa subsidizing operations in Oklahoma City. Records show the practice has been going on for years. A letter written May 5, 2010, by EMSA CFO Kent Torrence stated the loan balance at that time was $1.8 million due to higher than expected expenses, lower revenues and budget miscalculations. The letter was sent to Oklahoma City Deputy Budget Director Doug Dowler.

"The West has had some balance payable to the East for the last five years," Torrence's letter states.

Since 2005, fiscal year-end balances owed by Oklahoma City to Tulsa ranged from a low of $200,000 last year to $2 million at the end of fiscal year 2010. Ed Shadid, an EMSA trustee and city councilor for Oklahoma City, said officials in Oklahoma City learned about the transfers between divisions in May 2010 and told Williamson to take steps to discontinue the practice.

"Here we are 18 months later and we've got an $800,000 balance," Shadid said. "It seems as though EMSA leadership is testing some boundaries. They will find that the city of Oklahoma City's boundaries are firm."

Torrence said steps have been taken to eliminate the need to transfer funds between divisions, including building up a reserve fund in Oklahoma City. The agency has also announced steps to make its finances more transparent. The changes follow an investigation by the Tulsa World that found the agency had spent funds on items including a $9,000 area rug, a $3,800 trophy case and a $15,000 stone feature with EMSA's logo. It also budgeted spending nearly $150,000 for lobbyists and public relations costs statewide this year. In a written statement, EMSA board chairman James Griffin said the expenses "only add up to a minuscule portion of our budget" and the items were purchased over the past 30 years.

"While it appears we have not been transparent throughout this process that has not been our intent," the statement says. "Going forward, we are implementing new initiatives and enhancing current practices to make it easier for elected officials and citizens to access and understand our finances."

Steps EMSA announced Monday include easier access to EMSA financial reports, archived video of agency board meetings and annual reports, all to be available on the agency's website. EMSA will also resume the practice of giving a monthly financial review to Tulsa city councilors.

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