Village board wants new squad

VOORHEESVILLE — After a long and bitter dispute, the village board said Tuesday that it will let the contract with the Voorheesville Area Ambulance Squad quietly expire on Dec. 31 so that it can begin using a different rescue service. The VAAS, however, said this week that using a different service while the VAAS remains open for business would be unlawful.
Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple has agreed to mediate between the two boards before the contract runs out.

“I support cost-effective services,” Apple told The Enterprise Wednesday. “I do support both of them. I am being a bit of a mediator.”

Voorheesville Trustee Jack Stevens, the ambulance-service liaison, said that the village has three points it wants included in a 2014 contract. The village wants to hold the reserve fund, or approximately $6,000 in 2013 and any reserve amount beyond 2014, to possibly keep taxpayer monies in the village if the VAAS were to dissolve.

The village has argued previously that, with fewer volunteer hours, a potential dissolution of the VAAS would render the assets distributable to a similar organization rather than back to the municipalities that fund the VAAS.

Currently, revenue recovered from patients’ insurance companies pays for 60 percent of the VAAS’s budget, which is roughly $90,000 annually, according to Denise Garrah, the VAAS board chairwoman.

The town of New Scotland contributes 61 percent of the ambulance budget, and the village contributes 39 percent. (In round numbers, that means the village pays roughly $20,000 and the town roughly $30,000.) The town, in the past, has said it would be amenable to being responsible for 100 percent of the subsidy, but the village has declined to allow this.

Earlier this year, the village board talked of replacing the VAAS with re-trained village firefighters but that plan was not embraced by the volunteer fire department.

The village would need to petition a court to keep the assets in case of dissolution, Stevens said. The village wants to have a request for the courts to consider redistribution in the 2014 contract, he said.

Finally, the village did not want to provide two weeks’ notice to the VAAS when placing ambulance business on its agenda, as the village board meets every two weeks. 

Stevens reported to the board that the VAAS membership, including board members and non-board members, refused to bend on any of the three sticking points with the village.

Stevens also said that the ambulance squad did not welcome the village at discussions it held with the town of New Scotland during October.

At the village board meeting, however, VAAS members Ray Ginter and Robin Shufelt said that the ambulance squad would probably agree to allow contract language about the court dissolution and the meeting notice.

“There’s no talk of VAAS dissolving,” Shufelt said. “We’re still going to be here two doors away, supplying [emergency services] to the town.

The two boards could not agree which entity would control the reserve funds for a replacement ambulance. Ginter said that VAAS plans to replace one of its ambulances on a 13-year cycle.

“Once you put funds in the hands of a non-profit corporation, the municipalities lose control,” said Village Attorney Richard Reilly. Ultimately, he said, the village would have to purchase the vehicle if funds were used from the village-controlled fund.

“That’s the problem,” Shufelt said.

“They have to have some control. They’re fiduciaries,” Reilly said.

“We’re protecting the money going forward, God forbid,” said village Trustee David Cardona, the board’s budget officer.

“It’s almost embarrassing,” Stevens said. “It’s that simple.”

The walk to Western Turnpike

Stevens noted that two of the three items important to the village had been accepted by the VAAS.

"It's that one item that's going to send us down the road to Western Turnpike. We're talking about $6,000. It's up to you," he said.

Stevens told the board that the Western Turnpike Rescue Squad would cover the village for the amount it would receive for revenue recovery, at a zero cost to the village. Voorheesville board members estimated that the village pays about $25,000 for the VAAS after revenue recovery is paid.

Representatives from Western Turnpike did not return calls or e-mails before press time.

Ginter told The Enterprise that Guilderland taxpayers would have concerns if Western Turnpike truly served Voorheesville for no cost, as taxpayers there fund the squad.

Shufelt and Ginter also expressed concerns about the legality of contracting with another service provider with VAAS so close and fully operational.

Shufelt said that Western Turnpike could not provide services while VAAS was operating, unless it were for mutual aid. With VAAS functioning, she said, Western Turnpike could not show that Voorheesville was not being served and could not provide a certificate of need from the state Department of Health, according to New York State Public Health Law 30.

"It's completely illegal," she said.

Stevens countered that the village was working through the county's emergency services and would not need a certificate. Western Turnpike would be working for Albany County, he said. The village currently uses county emergency medical services for daytime hours when VAAS is short of volunteers.

Shufelt said that Western Turnpike turns over emergency calls it cannot take to other squads in Colonie and Rotterdam.

"You're going to have problems," Shufelt said. "You're going to have somebody die. It's dangerous."

Ginter said that the VAAS "might be interested if legally...the money would be there when they wanted it."

"They can't just hand you a blank check," Reilly said. "They can't do that."

Cardona said that a reserve fund required trust between the village and its vendor, VAAS.

"The trust between the ambulance service and us has been shot," he said. "Let's trust each other, again."

At the board's workshop earlier Tuesday, Stevens said that response time from Western Turnpike would be below the national average.

"You can't put a dollar on public safety, but if it's the same response time...We contract with Voorheesville Ambulance or we contract with someone else. If the town takes it over, our taxes go up," Cardona said.

He said that if the same service and same response time were possible with another vendor, "I won't ever vote for kicking it over to the town."

He added, "If they're a vendor, how can we spend more money on a vendor? We're not doing our job."

At the board meeting, Cardona said, "A mediator doesn't make any sense to me. We don't mediate contracts with vendors. That's not what we do."

The village board said that using the VAAS would cost more than the village could legally recover in taxes. To keep VAAS as a vendor, he said, would mean cutting something else out of the village budget.

"We have absolutely no choice but to go to that vendor...Taxes still get passed on to our taxpayers. They're going to keep paying for it. I hate to see Voorheesville Ambulance go. I truly, truly do."

Sheriff Apple will meet with both groups soon, he told The Enterprise.

"I support the volunteer service," which is "important to the Hilltowns," Apple said. "The village wants transparency. I do support both of them.

"What I want," Apple continued, "is to get us all in a room and not leave until we have an agreement. We're all adults. This is about getting a service to the residents."