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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 7, 2010

Contract stymied
Ambulance squad and village can’t come to terms

By Jo E. Prout

VOORHEESVILLE — Four months after the village’s contract with the Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service expired, the village board met on Tuesday with the squad but came to no agreement.

The board was hesitant to hand over funds to a volunteer squad that arrived with an attorney but no hard numbers about its calls to date, for which the squad is supported by town and village funds.

“You are a vendor that is supported 100 percent on tax dollars,” said village budget officer David Cardona. “You’re required by law [to submit records]. We have a right to know where every single dime is spent.”

The board and the ambulance squad run on two calendars, with the village’s fiscal year ending in summer and the squad’s ending in December. The board and squad agreed two years ago that the village would give money to the squad for “as long as we needed to for about a 24-month period” until the squad recovered enough revenue to function, Cardona said.

In 2008, the ambulance squad moved to a revenue recovery system in which insurance companies and Medicare are billed for the cost of patients’ ambulance rides. The volunteers had initially voted against the change but 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 survey of other area ambulance services showed that they generally charged a flat rate of $300 to $400, along with an added mileage charge. The Voorheesville’s squad captain at the time, Larry Pakenas, estimated it would take at least until the end of 2009 to get a sense of how much money would be collected and, in turn, how much would need to come from taxpayers.

“The big question”

Over the initial 24-month period, the board has budgeted about $40,000 per year for the squad, and the revenue has been returned in two installments of around $19,000 each. The village pays 40 percent of the squad’s budget, and the town of New Scotland pays 60 percent.

Village Attorney Anne-Jo McTague said that the village’s auditor frowned on the practice of fronting the squad money and receiving it back over the course of a year.

Last year’s contract, which ended in May, was for $35,500, Clerk Treasurer Linda Pasquali said. The squad has returned $30,966, she said.

The board is waiting for the squad’s 2009 annual report, Cardona said. That report would include the number of calls to date.

“We haven’t shorted you a dime,” Cardona said. “We can’t sign a contract because we don’t have what we need.”

Terrence Hannigan, an attorney for the ambulance squad, asked if the board would prefer a report over service.

“We can’t run calls?” he asked.

Cardona asked if the squad had run 300 calls for the year.

“What is 40 percent of the difference [of the cost of calls]? What money will the ambulance be short? We’ll sign it tonight,” Cardona said.

Citing the volunteer status of squad members, and turnover in the ranks, the squad said that the report, and any notes about the initial meeting two years ago, were unavailable.

Ironically, one emergency medical technician left mid-discussion to go on a call. Trustee Jack Stevens, a driver for the squad, stayed at the meeting after the members agreed that another driver was on duty.

“No one’s answering the big question,” Cardona said. “It’s a lot of money. They can’t run short and run to the village office and get some money. We need to pay in advance.” He said that the squad can then bring in its revenue recovery sheets “so that you never run short.”

“It’s got to survive,” Hannigan said about the squad. “They’re budgeted until December. They need money to carry them through the end of the year.”

“I can’t give you a number, unfortunately,” said squad treasurer Sue Fritts.

Will the town take over?

Squad members asked if the village were considering turning over the ambulance service entirely to the town, but both the squad and the village had different interpretations of Supervisor Thomas Dolin’s intentions.

“He said, ‘I don’t want anything to do with it,’ ” said Voorheesville Mayor Robert Conway.

“He’s very interested,” said squad captain Robin Shufelt.

“I’ll present it to the town board,” Dolin told The Enterprise Wednesday. “The town board’s the boss here. The village wishes to continue the relationship. I doubt if the town board would be interested in interfering with that. As I understand it, they’re still talking.”

“We’ll style an interim contract,” Hannigan said at the meeting Tuesday.

On Sept. 28, the meeting had been scheduled for Oct. 12, exactly two weeks later. On Oct. 5, The Enterprise learned that the meeting had been moved to that evening because the two attorneys involved were available, said Karen Finnessey, the deputy clerk-treasurer for the village.

“Notice of the time and place must be given,” said Robert Freeman, the executive director of the state Committee on Open Government. Boards must give ample notice to media, post the information publicly, and, if possible, place the information on their website, he said.

“If, indeed, notice was not given, the board failed to comply with the Open Meetings Law,” Freeman said.

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