Trustees reluctantly agree to contract but squad hasn’t signed

VOORHEESVILLE — After months of negotiating, the village board reluctantly agreed in June with a split vote to sign a modified contract with the Voorheesville Area Ambulance squad, leaving just two months remaining until a new contract would be necessary. As of press time, the ambulance squad has not yet returned a signed contract.

The board reviewed a contract proposed by an attorney for the ambulance service, and Village Attorney Richard Reilly modified it and returned it to the board. According to the version of the proposed contract that the board accepted, the village agreed to write a check for a reserve fund requested by the ambulance squad of $8,250. The contract includes a condition that the squad bill users, including any retroactively who were not previously billed.

Neither Terence Hannigan, the squad’s attorney, nor ambulance representatives returned calls to The Enterprise for comment.

Mayor Robert Conway complained of the “hundreds of thousands of dollars we left on the table through not billing” as the ambulance service has vacillated on points of billing between the two areas it serves, the village of Voorheesville and the town of New Scotland. Conway reviewed the last year, noting that the volunteer ambulance service had requested an extra $60,000 for professional daytime coverage. The Albany County Sheriff’s offer of free coverage when volunteers are unavailable created issues with the ambulance squad, Conway said.

“I’m not going to apologize for watching taxpayers’ money,” Conway said. He also said that he respects their jobs as volunteers, but added, “I feel like I can’t continue to subject the taxpayers to the current blackmail situation. This is not a willing partnership. We’re being held hostage here.”

He said that the village board would “sign this contract, give them their $8,000, and let’s move on.”

Trustee David Cardona, who cast the lone vote against the contract, said that the ambulance should continue to operate for “years to come.” He added, “They just can’t stop fighting, sticking it to us. It drives me crazy. It’s ridiculous.”

Conway said that the proposed contract included an agreement to write a check for reserve money. When the ambulance service signs the contract, he said, the check will be released to it.

“I’m not in favor of the contract, because they don’t need a reserve fund,” he said.

Trustee Brett Hotaling said that he would vote in favor of the contract “for now, to finish the year,” but that he wanted the board to look into the issues further for the next contract year.

Trustee Jack Stevens, an ambulance driver with the squad for many years, said that he had e-mailed ambulance volunteers and spoken with them one-on-one asking them to meet with the board to discuss the contract.

“Nobody comes,” Stevens said. About the reserve fund requested by the ambulance, he asked, “Do they really need it?”

In January, when officials from the village and town boards met with ambulance squad members, Voorheesville Ambulance Captain Ray Ginter said the reserve funds are used to buy a replacement ambulance about every 10 years and pay for large building repair projects. He said the service puts a small amount of money in savings each year so it can afford to pay for larger expenses without affecting the consistency of its annual budget. He said not funding the reserves on a regular basis could eventually impact operation.

“Stability and consistency are good business. We know how to keep a business running without going into the red,” said Ginter in January.

Stevens said at the village board’s June meeting that the board should vote to sign the contract dated June-July, and renegotiate in 60 days.

“We don’t want them to go away,” Stevens said. “If they continue down the same road, we will vote to go with another vendor.” He said that the village and the ambulance service need respect between the two agencies.

Hotaling, Stevens, and Conway voted in favor of the contract, and Cardona voted against it.

Trustee Richard Berger was absent and did not vote.

No members of the ambulance service attended the June regular village board meeting, nor did their attorney, Hannigan, attend.

“Did Mr. Hannigan know we were going to do this today?” Cardona asked the board.

Reilly said that Hannigan sent the contract that Reilly then modified, and that he thought that attendance at the regular meeting had been implied when ambulance representatives met with board members in early June.