Facing a decision on whether or not to opt in for a town-wide ambulance district to serve the Town of Montgomery, Walden trustees heard some impassioned pleas of support last week.
A new ambulance district would be financed by property taxes, with an annual estimated budget of $800,000, according to Town of Montgomery Supervisor Brian Maher. Currently, the ambulance corps is funded by billing insurance companies for transports. It also receives $150,000 from the Town of Montgomery General Fund. The town is also paying certain invoices.
Maher has visited with elected officials with each of the three villages in recent weeks, lobbying in support of the proposed district. He has already received the support of the Montgomery Village Board. The Montgomery Town Board has scheduled a public hearing for Wednesday, Jan 12 at 6:30 p.m.
At last week’s Walden meeting, village resident Richard McNamee said that to not support a district would be “feckless and wholly short sided.”
“I have lived in Walden for most of my life,” said McNamee. “My father was raised here. My three children will be raised here. It’s hard not to understate the severe stress the ambulance system is under.”
McNamee, who served in the Town of Montgomery Ambulance Corps, said for-profit ambulance services routinely decline to send paramedics into Walden.
The goal in the creation of an ambulance district is to have one ambulance rig staffed 24/7 and another staffed 12/7. That’s not the current case, where the Town of Montgomery Ambulances Corps is not always able to respond to calls, forcing 911 dispatchers to look elsewhere when the call comes.
“Dispatchers are very used to dispatching five or more different ambulance services, one failed response after another until someone finally begins responding after a 20, maybe 30-minute delay,” McNamee said. “I know that we’ve had Kiryas Joel has been in the Village of Walden, because that many closer services failed to respond.
Town of Montgomery Police Chief John Hank told the Walden trustees that the days of volunteer EMS “are pretty much over.”
“The Town of Montgomery actually pays police officers more to be EMTs (then they pay patrol officers)” Hank said. “The reason we do that is because we can never depend on ambulances to show up. We don’t know how long it’s going to take.”
Hank said that he has sat on scene over the course of the last year up to an hour waiting for an ambulance.
“Because if one’s not coming, they just keep going to somebody else. And if your call is not that serious, you don’t know how long it’s going to take for them to get there,” Hank said. “I’ve personally done CPR on patients for over a half hour waiting for an ambulance to show up. The system is unbelievable broken. Everybody that works in the emergency services field is fully aware. It is absolutely sad it has taken this long for government as a whole, including the town and the villages to look into this, to do anything about it, or to even care. In the time I’ve been doing this, living in Maybrook, living in Montgomery, I’ve never heard any entity outside of the town board, give any sort of air time to ambulance service, to caring who’s actually showing up, unless it’s a member of their family that got very poor service, or waited a long time for an ambulance to show up. Getting this done and getting an ambulance district into place, so that we can guarantee people that they are actually going to have somebody show up, almost all of the time, is something that is long overdue. It’s decades overdue.”
Several Walden trustees again questioned the future of the current ambulance bay on North Montgomery Street.
Sylvie Rainaldi, a trustee for the Town of Montgomery Ambulance Corps, said it could be five years before a proposed new bay at the town hall complex is in operation. Either way, she said, there are no guarantees as to what might happen with the Walden location.
“The response time will go down,” warned Walden Trustee John Elliott.
Trustee Lynn Thompson wondered if the $800,000 budget could be lowered.
“We are doing it this way because we want to avoid coming back and asking for more,” Maher replied, adding that in the first or second year, not all of the budget would be used, but a budget surplus would accumulate.
The plan received support from Walden Trustee Patricia Maher, sister of the town supervisor.
“Our main responsibility as a trustee is fiscal responsibility,” Patricia Maher said. “I have no doubt that this is such a great plan. The bones are here..I feel like I trust you guys and I trust the ambulance corps to do the right thing. No one can say we haven’t done our due diligence.”
Mayor John Ramos wasn’t ready to opt in to the district.
“You’ve got to do it the right way,” Ramos said. “We were not privy to some of the committee meetings you’ve had. Where’s your business plan? I’d like to see an operational plan. I’m looking at compensation, salaries and benefits.”
“I presented you the business plan in a power point format,” Rainaldi replied.
“It’s not a business plan,” the mayor responded.
The village board is expected to vote at the Jan. 18 village board meeting. Village Attorney Dave Donovan reminded the trustees that once they opt in, they can never opt out. Only the town board can dissolve a special assessment district.
And if they should decide to opt out now, Supervisor Maher has said the district will not be created unless all three villages support the measure.
“If you guys opt out,” he said, “I will be back here. We will do this every year until we do it. That’s how strongly I feel about it.”