Mayfield declines to sign letter pushing county on ambulances|[6/30/06]

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 30, 2006

Text of Mayor Laurence Leyens letter.

A letter from the Vicksburg officials to Warren County supervisors proposing solutions to paying the cost of ambulance and rescue services outside city limits arrived at the courthouse Thursday afternoon, but without North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield’s signature.

Mayfield, a longtime county supervisor, said he declined to sign, citing a paragraph that asks the county to pay about a third of what the city said is losses of just less than $1.9 million from running ambulances to the county.

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&#8220I just didn’t think it was right to dictate to the county where its money should come from,” Mayfield said.

The letter, signed by Mayor Laurence Leyens and South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman, tells county officials the city expects the county to nearly double its payments for support of the Vicksburg Fire Department-based services to an estimated $664,827 in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

It says the money should come &#8220from those persons who reside outside the city limits or from some other funding source” because city residents pay county taxes, too.

One such source that Leyens has indicated but that was not mentioned in the letter, is a 2-mill increase in the property tax levy in fire protection districts.

Mayfield, who was the county supervisor for District 2 for 10 years before his election in 2005 as alderman, said he found the language improper on the grounds that a government entity should not be told what to do with its funding sources.

&#8220It’s not proper when you’re dealing with another duly elected board,” he said.

Supervisors had expected the letter before their informal session Thursday morning. After receiving it and pointing to the portion that asks the $664,827 be paid before the start of the new year, they also questioned the legality of paying for services in advance, saying a government entity cannot do so.

Reached late Thursday, City Attorney Nancy Thomas would only say the issue has not been fully researched on the city end.

Countywide ambulance and rescue service has been a joint venture of the local governments for about 40 years. Under an interlocal agreement amended and modified upward through the years, most recently in 2003-04, to reflect rising costs, the county pays $350,000 annually for non-city responses by the Vicksburg Fire Department personnel and equipment.

The county is to be billed quarterly, but the last set of invoices sent by the city covered nine months during two fiscal years and was not received until May. The total said to be due was more than $400,000.

The letter said the projected budget for ambulance and rescue services in fiscal year 2006-07 is $3.2 million with $1.9 million that will come from city and county coffers and the balance collected in user fees. The county’s share is calculated at $300 per response for rescue personnel and $300 per patient for ambulance response based on the percentage of responses outside the city limits.

&#8220All we’ve ever asked for is an accurate rendition of what the runs are and where they went. We owe that to the taxpayers. Instead of trying to blame somebody, let’s just get the facts and figures,” District 5 Supervisor Richard George said Thursday morning.

Others said the motive of the city may not be to provide accurate numbers at all.

&#8220The mayor isn’t really interested in putting the numbers before us. He is interested in dictating what we have to do and how we’ve got to do it,” said District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon, who was the Democratic nominee for mayor defeated by Leyens in 2005.

Leyens and Beauman have said they will consider the interlocal agreement lapsed on Oct. 1 if a new deal cannot be brokered, meaning responses will be stopped.

Supervisors are trying to arrange a meeting with their attorney, Paul Winfield, County Administrator John Smith, also a former city employee, Thomas and Vicksburg Strategic Planner Paul Rogers after the Fourth of July holiday to reach an accord.