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Okla. Mayor Spurns EMSA Proposal

TULSA, Okla. -- A proposed City Council ordinance that would change how an ambulance fee collected on utility bills is directed to EMSA is not necessary, Mayor Dewey Bartlett said Monday.

"We've negotiated a very good, very fair contract with EMSA, which addresses the issues outlined in the proposed ordinance," he said.

But Councilor Bill Christiansen, sponsor of the proposed ordinance, said a contract is too easy to reverse.

Despite the administration's contract, he plans to ask for a council vote on his ordinance Thursday. Both the ordinance and provisions in the contract set up a procedure that mirrors Oklahoma City in how the city turns over the ambulance fees it collects for the Emergency Medical Services Authority.

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.

The city collects more on the fee than it costs to provide the ambulance service, said Vickie Beyer, director of the city's Management Review Office. Like in Oklahoma City, the contract and the ordinance would have the city keep any amount in excess of the cost to provide the service with as much as 10 percent of the excess going into a "rate stabilization reserve."

Beyer said the reserve fund would help minimize any future rate increases to customers. She said the administration has been negotiating a contract with EMSA to address cost savings since the mayor agreed to continue its service. Beyer said addressing how the fee is paid to EMSA has been one of the issues discussed and that the overall goal of the administration and council is the same. Bartlett said the contract provision leaves room for flexibility.

"Ordinances are very solid, rock hard and severe and are difficult to change without a long process," he said.

The mayor said the contract, which is close to being signed, also gives the administration and EMSA "more ability to continue to work out better arrangements with everything." But Christiansen said an ordinance would ensure that any future changes would involve public discussions "because the City Council would have to approve any modifications."

"Whereas with the contract the mayor is proposing, either party can cancel it within 90 days and it is just up to the mayor to approve," he said. "I think the citizens deserve and would expect that their councilor, their representative at City Hall, would have a say in changes to the fee."

Earlier this month, EMSA President Steve Williamson told councilors that he "wholeheartedly" agreed with the proposed ordinance. Bartlett would not say whether he would veto the proposed ordinance if approved.

EMSA 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 suburbs in that area. In recent months, controversy erupted over some of EMSA's financing after a Tulsa World investigation revealed Tulsa subsidies for Oklahoma City operations and funds spent on extravagant items such as rugs and trophy cases.

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