NORTH SALEM, N.Y.-When the North Salem Volunteer Ambulance Corps called, the Town Board responded.
Last week, the board approved a municipal spending plan of $9.4 million that included $21,500 more than planned for the group, whose members had pressed for the financial boost at meetings with the board over the last two months, citing a volunteer shortage leading to the overextension of its current membership.
The board’s tentative budget for 2018 had included an allotment of $79,000 for the organization, a $5,000 increase from 2017. But Kurt Guldan, the corps’ president, argued it needed more.
Guldan asked the town to add an amount equal to 12 hours’ pay to secure more coverage on weekends. He estimated the cost at almost $30,000.
The board was hesitant because it was unsure how the extra funding could be covered. Ultimately, after brainstorming, the board was able to allot the corps funding for eight paid hours.
“Everyone was supportive of the NSVAC’s issues in getting volunteers and their need for additional coverage on the weekend,” Supervisor Warren Lucas said in an email. “The additional $21,500 will give them eight hours of coverage on Saturdays starting March 1 for the rest of the year,” adding, “money was moved from other areas to make it all work.”
The tentative budget was otherwise basically left intact and unanimously approved Dec. 5 after a hearing no residents attended. It calls for a tax levy of about $3,720,000, up by $111,761 from 2017, which will result in a tax rate increase of 2.7 percent. That figure is about $12,600 under the state-mandated tax cap.
Under the budget, the NSVAC per diem line increased by $26,456, to just over $100,000. It provides coverage of the cost of 24 hours on Sundays and an ambulance and eight hours on Saturdays.
During budget discussions, Guldan highlighted a pressing need for more volunteers and support for the volunteer ambulance corps, which responded to about 427 calls last year.
“Membership has not grown,” Guldan said. “I think I’d be generous in saying [there are] a dozen [members] and that’s being kind.”
But even a hypothetical surge of volunteers would not remedy the situation, Guldan explained, because certification classes and training are time-consuming and the corps needs money to pay for things like utilities and maintenance.
Additionally, if the town had a higher volume of calls, the corps could charge for transporting people to and from the hospital, which would, in turn, offset the cost of the paid staff.
“We technically only bill for ‘loaded miles,’ “ Maria Hlushko, a corps volunteer and secretary to the town supervisor explained, “which is the transport from the scene to a medical facility. If there are five people at the scene of an accident and only one goes to to the hospital, we only get a small amount.”
During discussions, Lucas and Guldan discussed the unpredictable nature of the calls, as well.
“You can have some days with three calls and some days with no calls,” Lucas said.
“To run a paid ambulance corps, you need 4.33 calls per shift to make it break even,” Guldan said. “You don’t have that call volume. Even if we combined it with Lewisboro, you still don’t have that call volume.”
Guldan said that the corps is not in a position to have a paid staff, and that when the budget falls short, he’s contributed his own money.
“Additionally, the way it works out, is you have about three volunteers working during the week during which the majority of calls are placed,” Hlushko added. “The volunteers all have other jobs as well that they are routinely taken away from to respond to calls.”
Hlushko said about 75 percent of the NSVAC’s calls come in during the day.
“Ideally, the corps would have 56 people,” she said. “So all the empty shifts are currently falling on two or three people.”
Guldan said the town’s additional funding will ensure members who work during the week won’t be called away from family affairs on weekends. Additionally, it could help alleviate burnout among volunteers, who town board members say provide an integral service.
The board also discussed offering an incentive to foster EMTs among the town’s staff who would be able to leave work to respond to calls during the week. At one point in the past, every member of the town’s highway department was a volunteer EMT. That’s no longer the case.
In a related development, the town will be paying $386,000 per year for Advanced and Basic Life Support Ambulances and “fly cars.” That reflects an increase of $39,000 from 2017.
“[Basic Life Support] BLS, without the support of our volunteers, (would) cost the town far in excess of the $386,000 we have budgeted for 2018,” Lucas said.
Ambulance corps volunteers receive a discount on town taxes if they are members in good standing and have served for a certain number of years.
To join the corps, you must be 18 years old or over. To be a driver, you must be 21 or older and have a clean driving record. Like the EMT course, the driver training course is free of charge. For information, call 914-277-4944 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.