Guilderland to take over work of Western Turnpike, which will close

Enterprise file photo — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

Alan Fitzpatrick, the president of Western Turnpike Rescue Squad told the Guilderland Town Board in June that its decision to create its own ambulance service spelled the beginning of the end for Western Turnpike.

GUILDERLAND — Guilderland’s proposed budget for next year is $35 million, an increase of $1.3 million over 2018 largely because the town will run an ambulance service.

One of the two not-for-profit ambulance services used by Guilderland — Western Turnpike Rescue Squad — will go out of business by the end of this year, said Guilderland Supervisor Peter Barber. The town will take over the role Western Turnpike played, Barber said.

This will include taking over its two buildings, buying four or five new ambulance, and hiring 11 part-time emergency medical technicians, Barber said, adding, “We’ve been anticipating this for quite some time.”

The other ambulance squad, Altamont Rescue, which also serves Knox, is not being taken over by Guilderland. In June, when Guilderland purchased a bariatric ambulance and hired staff for it, the Western Turnpike president said the matter should have been discussed ahead publically and would eventually lead to the end of Western Turnpike.

Last year’s final budget was $33,816,560. This year’s proposed budget is $35,151,176.

Tax rates, including highway and water, will increase 1.16 percent. The increase is two pennies over the 2018 rate of $2.42 per $1,000 of assessed value, Barber said.

The owner of a property worth $250,000, will pay $6.54 more next year than this year, said Barber.

Other highlights of the budget proposal include installation of LED lights, both in town offices as well as for streetlights; ongoing work for a stormwater system in McKownville; and 2.5-percent raises for town workers.

The next step for the budget is a public hearing scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 8 at 6 p.m.

Ambulance service

“The 2019 budget has a number of financial pressures that are different than prior years including anticipated increased fuel costs, higher interest rates, and expanded ambulance services,” Barber wrote in an email to The Enterprise Wednesday. “The ambulance system's fiscal impact on the budget will likely arise in the next few months, included the anticipated purchase of five ambulances, paying 21 part-time employees, operating costs for two stations, and the Town's assumption of mortgages on the stations.”

He added, “The budget doesn’t propose financing the capital costs for this essential service. The expanded ambulance service’s operating expenses is projected to be self-supporting once it starts receiving revenue (Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance company payments).”

Over the last five years, the town has been providing more financial resources and more personnel to Western Turnpike, Barber said, and the town’s medical director, Dr. Donald Doynow, “didn’t feel it was working out.”

The town had seen, over the last couple of years, that Western Turnpike was having some financial difficulties, Barber said, which caused Doynow to recommend that the town acquire an ambulance.

In June, the town board voted unanimously, without any discussion at any previous meetings, to start its own ambulance service; purchase a used bariatric ambulance for $52,000 that can be used for anyone, including obese patients; and hire 10 part-time EMTs. Doynow’s son was one of the part-time EMTs hired.

Western Turnpike President Alan Fitzpatrick told the board at the time that there should have been a public hearing and that the town’s decision represented the beginning of the end for Western Turnpike.

The new bariatric ambulance was needed mainly because of response times, which had averaged 12 to 13 minutes, especially in the western part of town, Barber said. He added that this was lowered to “roughly five minutes” with the purchase of the bariatric ambulance. Faster response times are essential to patient outcome, he said, particularly with cardiac patients.

The new ambulances are to be housed in the buildings that Western Turnpike now occupies — a smaller one on Carman Road, and a larger one behind the Westmere Fire Department on Western Avenue. The town will acquire the buildings subject to the mortgage, Barber said, and will take over, in addition to the mortgage, utilities, upkeep, landscaping, and daily cleaning.

The town will hire 11 new part-time EMTs, Barber said, to bring the number of part-time town EMTs up to 21. Interviews have started, Barber said; he believed that most candidates were from Western Turnpike. “It’s a Civil Service process, so it’s open,” Barber said.

The new system will be more efficient, Barber said. When working with Western Turnpike, who are all EMTs and have no medics, two cars needed to arrive on each call, one from Western Turnpike, and one town medic’s fly car.

“And you have the craziness where,” Barber said, “if you have to have the medic ride in the ambulance, his fly car is now sitting in someone’s driveway for an hour or more, and then he has to be driven back to the car, and the car is out of commission for that time.”

Some of the new ambulances will be on the road and some will serve as backup, Barber said, noting that Altamont Rescue has its own ambulance, as does Five Quad in the University at Albany. “It’s a matter of coordination,” he said.

Ambulance coordination will be done out of town hall, headed by Captain Daniel McNally of the police department, who currently heads the police department’s emergency medical services division.

At least some of the ambulances are to be acquired from Western Turnpike.

Barber said the town anticipates having relatively high costs up front, at the beginning of the year, “when we need to acquire buildings and ambulances and start paying people.” He expects the ambulance service to be self-sufficient once it’s up and running,and has been operating for a few months.

The highway department has been taking on the maintenance of the ambulances, and will be hiring one new mechanic, who will be located at the highway department. This will fill a vacancy created by the retirement of a mechanic at the central garage, on Nott Road.

A lot of the operations are being centralized at the highway department, Barber said, since that is where the heavy equipment including heavy-duty lifts, snow plows, tractors, and a paver are located. The department also maintains the town’s fleet of senior buses, Barber said.

“Having five ambulances to maintain is a lot,”  he said.

The town’s Parks Department has already become involved with maintenance of the two buildings, Barber added. The highway department has been “phenomenal” when it comes to its mechanics, he said, adding. “We’re making sure our ambulances and the fly cars are serviced and out on the road.”

Shift to LED

The town plans to purchase 600 lamp posts throughout the town from National Grid, and convert all of them to light-emitting diodes. It will also convert all the lights in the town hall to LED, he said, adding that the town will work with the neighbors in each community, to make sure that the type of LED lighting used is acceptable to them.

The town will also be working with the New York Power Authority, Barber said, to make sure that lighting is appropriate for the setting.

The maintenance of all these lamp posts will be done in a shared-services agreement with the village of Altamont, the town of New Scotland, and the village of Voorheesville, “so the state provides funds for that,” Barber said.

The town is not buying the poles, but only the lighting arms at the top. The poles sometimes contain utility or telephone lines.

Guilderland also plans to replace the phone system in all town offices and to add fiber-optic connections.

“It’s going to be faster, more secure,” Barber said, noting that the town will be able, with the new system, to do backups and to have more secure communications among departments.

McKownville stormwater

Projects are underway to alleviate long-standing flooding problems in McKownville.

“We’re completing the McKownville stormwater and water infrastructure project,” Barber said. “It’s going very well. They’ve completed several streets.”

A lot of roads in McKownville have been dug up and many lawns disturbed, he said. “But people are excited about being able to resolve some of the flooding in their basements.”

Currently, most people are connecting their sump pumps to the town’s sanitary sewer system; the water goes to the town’s plant for cleaning, which is very expensive, because it is full of organic matter such as leaves, Barber said.

With the new stormwater system, the sump pumps will send material into creeks and streams, “where stormwater should go,” Barber said. “The town doesn’t have to clean it” in that case, he said.

The town currently spends several hundred thousand dollars a year in electricity fees for its filtration plants, both sewer and water, he said, noting that this is the highest electrical fee that the town pays.

Salaries

An increase of 2.5 percent is proposed for all town workers’ salaries, of both union and non-union employees. Salaries went up 2.5 percent across the board in 2018 also. Barber said that this is an effort to catch up with a period of several years, during the recession, when no increases were given.

 

More Guilderland News

  • The lack of a video came to The Enterprise’s attention because of a letter to the editor this week from Luanne Nicholson, formerly the library’s public information officer, who spoke at the May 16 meeting, raising managerial concerns.

  • The anniversary worship service starts at 11 a.m. in the church at 2291 Western Ave. followed by a luncheon in Fellowship Hall at 12:15 p.m. The Buena Comida taco truck will also be out in the church’s parking lot. Guilderland’s town historian, Mary Ellen Johnson, will speak in the sanctuary at 1 p.m. on the church’s history.

  • Altamont is seeking $1.2 million in funding for improvements to its wastewater treatment plant, while Voorheesville has asked for $300,000 to help pay for upgrades in the Salem Hills neighborhood.   

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