By Alan Montgomery
Special to The Rural Messenger
The Haven Community EMS Board is taking steps to hire a professional accounting firm to handle day-to-day operations of the ambulance service – a move that could prompt the city to end its lawsuit against the cooperative service, according to one source.
Now operating with just half of a board, because the city no longer sends its four representatives to EMS board meetings, the group is moving ahead with constructive action, said Dale Kaufman, chairman of the EMS board.
“We are hoping to meet next week with the accountant,” Kaufman said.
The CPA firm of Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk and Loyd currently handles accounting work for the city of Haven and for the three townships in the EMS group. Now they will be considered for managing EMS accounts, he said.
The mayor visits
The EMS board decided to proceed with the plan at a meeting on Aug. 20. The board’s actions were observed by Haven Mayor Adam Wright, who attended the meeting. Wright declined to sit at the board table, to represent the city, Kaufman said. Instead, Wright sat in an area for public seating.
After the meeting, Kaufman and Wright talked by phone. Kaufman said it was a positive, encouraging exchange – and that Wright said he would “be observing” the EMS board and its efforts to secure the CPA firm’s services to perform its accounting and monthly reports.
The mayor also indicated the action could prompt the city to end its lawsuit against the EMS, Kaufman said.
In a short phone interview on Aug. 29, the mayor was reluctant to say much about that.
Wright said he “couldn’t say yes or no” to the prospect that accounting issues were at the center of the litigation. He seemed skeptical that the townships would actually put an accounting firm in place to manage the EMS books.
“We went through this two years ago and they said they would do it then, but they didn’t get it done,” he said.
Kaufman said the EMS board is determined to move ahead.
“By tightening this up, we are making the EMS board stand alone. We think that is the best way to ensure the longevity of the EMS service for the next generation.”
The accounting issue isn’t necessarily the essence of the city’s law suit, he said, or whether that was what the city meant by saying the EMS was “loosely” operated.
“We aren’t really sure what the city wants,” Kaufman said. “We’re not sure the city knows what the city wants.”
The EMS, through the past 40 years, “has been operated with trust, that everybody is looking out for their neighbor. Doing what is best for the community. You just jump right in and do it.”
A tug of war
One of the pet peeves shared by some past city council members was that they could not get Haven EMS director Tony Troyer to attend department head meetings at the city building for budget planning and other matters. When asked, Troyer would ask the city to contact the EMS board about it, since he worked for the EMS, not the city.
Troyer also is a division chief for the Reno County EMS, based in Hutchinson, and divides his time between the two cities. He resides in Haven, and is often on call at night for the Haven ambulance service, as a paramedic. In the past, he was asked by the city to come to department meetings at times when he was on duty in Hutchinson, Kaufman said.
In the arrangement now being pursued by the EMS board, all of its financing, budgeting and available funds would be monitored and tallied by the CPA firm, and controlled by the EMS board – not the city. EMS funds would be in a bank account owned by the EMS. So there would be little reason for Troyer to attend city meetings, according EMS board sources.
The past mayor and some council members have discussed making Troyer’s position full-time – which they could do, if they had full control of the EMS. Troyer’s position with Reno County EMS would prevent him from working full-time for the city of Haven so he’d have to leave his position in Haven.
Kaufman said the whole issue about Troyer is old news and no longer relevant.
“A previous mayor, who is no longer on the council, talked about that,” he said. “I have not heard that in two years. In all my discussions with Adam (Wright), I have not heard one word about that.”
A control shift
From its beginning in 1977, the Haven Community EMS was supposed to maintain its own accounting and pay its own bills. But sometime during the past 20 or 30 years, accounting and money management migrated to Haven city hall, and the township representatives on the board saw no reason at the time to oppose it, Kaufman said.
It now is the EMS board’s plan to operate the ambulance service just like any small city would. They will address that goal with the accounting services from the Swindoll firm, he said.
The board sent a list of questions to one of the Swindoll accountants, “of the things we want to address, so he could consider them before we meet,” Kaufman said. They will be developing a plan, or a flow chart, “of all the things we need to get in line,” he said.
They also will study a new inventory of current EMS equipment and costs, provided by Troyer, so the insurance on the equipment can be updated. They also will review liability insurance, to ensure the volunteer EMTs are properly covered, along with standard “errors and omissions” insurance for the EMS board members.
In recent years, the EMS board relieved the city of Haven of the tasks for billing ambulance customers, including Medicare and Medicaid invoices. A billing firm employed by the ambulance service now handles the task.
Pay up – twice
The board made a special decision on Aug. 20, passing it unanimously.
“From that day forward, the legal expenses arising from the lawsuit will be paid by the Haven Community EMS, not by the individual townships,” Kaufman said.
The effect of this action is dramatic: The City of Haven now will be expected to pay not only for its own legal bills, but also half of the EMS board’s cost of defending itself – against the suit the city is waging against the EMS (and, well, against itself).
This is because, for more than 40 years, the city has been contractually obligated to pay half the overall expenses of the ambulance service, of which it is part owner, Kaufman said.
In the operating agreement for the Haven Community EMS, the City of Haven pays half of the expenses, Haven Township pays one fourth, and the townships of Yoder and Sumner split the other fourth. That agreement has been in place since 1977.
Kaufman said the townships would not seek to bill the city of Haven for its share of the city-instigated lawsuit costs incurred by the EMS board prior to Aug. 20.
“We will not seek reimbursement,” he said. “We want to work with these people. We paid it. It’s done. That is the honorable way. We can’t fix the past, we will only address the future.”
Can it end soon?
In its ongoing lawsuit, the City of Haven said the 1977 EMS agreement was replaced, or superseded, by a 2013 agreement. That document was presented by the city as a preliminary agreement to seek funding for a new EMS building. The city now insists that the 2013 agreement gives the city full control of the ambulance service.
But in March, Reno County District Court Judge Trish Rose ruled that the 1977 agreement was still in effect. The City of Haven now has two lawyers preparing a brief that would ask the Kansas Court of Appeals to overturn the Rose decision. Legal fees so far have exceeded $38,000 for the city and the three townships.
A taxpayer might wonder if the lawsuit will end soon. The current EMS board plans, if carried out, may answer or neutralize council complaints that the service is “loosely organized” and not in compliance with state standards. There may be little left to argue in the legal action.
And no one has offered a rationale or explanation, in open city council session, to justify overturning Judge Rose’s ruling that the 1977 agreement was never terminated and therefore remains in effect.