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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 2, 2010

It’s time to move on ambulance service contract

The Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service and the village of Voorheesville are on either side of a bitter divide.

“What happened to trust, loyalty, and communication?” asked the squad’s captain and chairman of the board in a letter to the editor.

“We have a right to know where every single dime is spent,” said Trustee David Cardona at a village meeting in October. Cardona, who is the village budget officer, was frustrated because, he said, required records weren’t forthcoming from the squad.

The village and the squad have not been able to agree on a contract and have been without one for more than six months. The village has covered about 40 percent of the ambulance squad’s annual $100,000 budget while the town of New Scotland, which encompasses the village, covered the remaining 60 percent.

On Oct. 14, Captain Robin Shufelt and Ray Ginter, chairman of the board for Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service, wrote a letter to the Enterprise editor, stating, “The main issue is that the village has decided that not signing a standard contract and not making payment for services is the way to do business. Why is VAAS, a voluntary ambulance service, suddenly the target for this unprofessional conduct?”

The letter praised the way the town of New Scotland handles financing, stating, “The town of New Scotland itemizes the cost for emergency medical services and fire services line by line on its tax bills sent to residents every year. Since VAAS started to collect revenue from transported patients’ health insurance companies for ambulance services, the annual cost for VAAS has dropped for town residents by 66 percent.”

The finances are everybody’s business because taxpayers pick up the tab not covered by patients’ insurance. The squad volunteers had initially voted against moving to a revenue recovery system but did so two years ago as the municipalities persevered, eager to reduce their budgets. At that time, the ambulance service answered about 400 calls annually and the budget totaled around $100,000.

A group from the squad told the town board recently that, on average, the response to an emergency call is $450 with a return of 68 to 70 percent from insurance companies.

We believe the best solution is for New Scotland to be responsible for 100 percent of the subsidy.

“We are going to accommodate the village and ambulance service whatever way they like,” New Scotland’s supervisor Thomas Dolin told our reporter Saranac Hale Spencer last week.

We hope the squad and the village leaders can put their differences aside long enough to see the merit of this solution.

It would solve the two major problems that have stymied negotiations. The first is the availability of paperwork. Voorheesville’s mayor, Robert Conway, says the village needs to receive an annual financial report and quarterly usage reports from the squad; the usage reports have been sporadic, he said, and the village just received the 2009 financial statement.

The town has been able to work with the squad’s report system while the village has not. It helps that the town’s fiscal year matches the squad’s — running from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 — while the village’s fiscal year runs from June 1 to May 31.

Second, the village wants to pay the squad at the end of the year, rather than the start. The squad says it needs the money up front in order to run, which is what the town does.

No one has questioned the value of the ambulance service. Because it is run by volunteers, the service has saved both municipalities countless dollars over the decades. The squad offers expertise and coverage for free that many other municipalities pay for dearly. The village does not want to undermine such valuable service. In fact, one of the trustees volunteers as a driver for the ambulance.

The best way to close the divide is to have the town take over 100 percent of the subsidy. This would be good for Voorheesville because its residents would still get the excellent ambulance service they’ve come to count on.

It would be good for the ambulance service because the squad members are happy working with the town and would find it less complex and grueling to deal with just one municipality.

And it would be good for New Scotland because the town would be able to recover some money for Advanced Life Support services it contracts for from the county. No one is billing the insurance companies for that now, according to Terence Hannigan, the attorney for the squad, leaving taxpayers to foot the entire bill for the town’s ALS; with the ambulance service subsidized completely by New Scotland, it could bill for the ALS, which is administered on a townwide basis.

The ambulance service and the village are meeting at the end of the month. “I’m looking out the windshield, not the rearview mirror at this point,” said Hannigan. We hope the village is doing the same. The time to act is now.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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