Issue to be Addressed Tuesday During a Special Meeting
MARSHFIELD, WI (OnFocus) – In a joint meeting scheduled for Tuesday, August 2, the City of Marshfield’s Common Council and the Police & Fire Commission will meet to discuss the EMS Enterprise Fund, which is facing a surprise $615,000 negative balance.
For many years, the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) account has been run as an Enterprise Fund. This fund has been used to pay for a varying number of employee salaries and benefits, ambulances/vehicles, EMS equipment, supplies, building costs, a portion of building repairs, maintenance, etc, and is supported mainly by user fees, contracts with outside agencies and townships/villages, and annual State-funded grants.
When the Marshfield Fire and Rescue Department entered into a contract to perform inter-facility transfers and intercepts with Marshfield Medical Center (MMC) beginning June 30, 2017, the department also added three (3) staff to help cover the additional workload. All three personnel were hired in 2020 and were placed under the Enterprise Fund budget, bringing the total personnel salary and benefits covered by the fund up to 11 2/3.
“The thought was the increased revenue from performing interfacility transfers and paramedic intercepts would cover the salaries and benefits of the three (3) additional staff which would put each shift at a maximum of 12 personnel/shift,” Fire Chief Pete Fletty stated in a memo to City leaders. “In addition, the three additional staff would be cross-trained like the rest of the staff to get the department a little closer to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1710: Standards for Fireground Staffing Levels for Career Fire Departments.”
Though the addition of three staff members has been credited with reduced level of stress and burnout, improved morale, overtime reduction, and better fire response, it has also (due to a combination of reasons) led to the current shortfall. Some of these reasons include: Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement rates have remained low, unpaid medical bills were more difficult to collect after debt collection services were outsourced to LifeQuest, there was a sharp decline in hospital transfers during the pandemic, and poor communication existed between the City’s Finance Department and the Fire Department.
“Looking back at spending out of the EMS Enterprise Fund, our research shows that in almost every year we have data for, the Fire Department has spent less than our approved budget amount from year-to-year. As far as we knew, if we were spending underneath the approved budget in most years, the EMS Enterprise Fund should be in good shape,” stated Fletty.
The budget process for the Fire Department follows a process in which staff submit for Capital Improvement Projects, just like every other department. This goes through the CIP process and items are either rejected or approved based on recommendations from Finance or the City Administrator. This then goes to Common Council for approval. The second part of the process is to submit items and formulate a regular budget for the following year.
“It has never been past practice for members of the Fire Department to see annual accounting reports or audits of the EMS Enterprise Fund, so we were relying on the Finance Department to let us know if the budget needed to be reduced due to account balance. Similar to the CIP process, the annual budget then goes to the Common Council for approval,” stated Fletty.
In short, based on the fact that audits, year-end reports, and overall financial health of the EMS Enterprise Fund was never shared by Finance with the Fire Department, Fire Department staff assumed Finance had a grasp of the health of the fund and what could be allocated for the following budget year.
“Not being a part of the EMS Enterprise Fund process in the past, I can only assume there was a breakdown in communication between Finance and Fire Department Administrative staff,” he stated. “After reviewing this issue with Finance, we found that we were not seeing cost assigned to the EMS Enterprise Fund for professional services, bad debt expense, depreciation of vehicles and equipment, and other expenses. In essence, we were not seeing the full picture of expenses assigned to the EMS Enterprise Fund.”
The issue will be discussed Tuesday, August 2 at 6:00pm in a Special Common Council joint meeting with the Fire & Police Commission. The meeting is not being broadcast by the City, but at this time OnFocus plans to be in attendance to stream. Click here to watch on Facebook. Find the full meeting packet here.
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