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EMSA Told to Provide Tulsa Financial Reports

TULSA, Okla. -- The City Council approved an ordinance Tuesday that will increase the transparency of EMSA, the city's ambulance service, by requiring that monthly financial reports be submitted to the city's elected officials. "The council does represent the people that pay this fee," said Councilor Bill Christiansen, who has been critical of the agency's spending. Christiansen has repeatedly said that although he thinks EMSA provides quality service, the city's officials need to be more informed on the agency's financing. 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 in Oklahoma City and numerous suburbs in that area.

The agency receives about $4.8 million a year from a $3.64 monthly subscription fee paid by Tulsa-area residents through their utility bills. It receives similar revenues from a utility bill fee in the Oklahoma City area. Controversy erupted recently over some of EMSA's financing after a Tulsa World investigation revealed that the agency 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. "What did startle me," Christiansen said Tuesday, "was the (Tulsa World) article about the continued borrowing between the eastern and western divisions. "As a layman and anyone reading the newspaper, it seems to indicate that it is obvious that the eastern division has a heckuva lot more money lying around than the western division," he said. The World investigation also found that EMSA 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 response, EMSA board Chairman James Griffin said those expenses "only add up to a minuscule portion of our budget" and that the items were purchased over the past 30 years. Oklahoma City officials also expressed irritation last week after learning that the agency's western division owed $800,000 to the eastern division, requiring interest payments. On Tuesday, EMSA President Steve Williamson told councilors that he "wholeheartedly" agreed with the ordinance sponsored by Christiansen. "The staff and board thought we were transparent," he said. "If it appears by some that we are not, then we will do whatever is necessary to be transparent and have this implemented as soon as possible." The ordinance requires EMSA to submit financial reports to the city clerk, mayor, city auditor and City Council that must include, but are not limited to, revenues from all sources; all expenditures; a list of all individual expenditures over $10,000; all cash balances; and any interdivisional borrowing. It also requires EMSA to post its annual audit on the agency's website or other public information system. EMSA also must file the audit report with the city clerk and send copies to the mayor, the city auditor and the City Council. After the meeting, Christiansen said he wants Tulsa's procedure for how money is funneled to EMSA changed to mirror Oklahoma City's procedure. Currently, Tulsa gives all of its collected fees to EMSA. Oklahoma City, however, requires EMSA to submit a budget of what it thinks it needs. Then if any additional money is needed, EMSA has to request it. Williamson has told the council that he is not opposed to that change. P.J. Lassek 918-581-8382 pj.lassek@tulsaworld.com SUBHEAD: The City Council votes to require monthly financial statements from the ambulance service.


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