Chesterton Tribune

Burns Harbor looks at costs and benefits of providing ambulance service

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There’s a long lead time and a big pricetag, but Burns Harbor fire chief Bill Arney believes the investment is well worth it for town residents.

During a three-hour 2012 budget workshop Tuesday, Town Council members heard Arney lay out a plan to offer advanced-life-support ambulance service through the Fire Department; it currently operates a basic-life-support ambulance when needed.

Only council members Toni Biancardi and Mike Perrine were present so no decisions were made; Louis Bain, Cliff Fleming and Jim McGee were absent, the latter due to a death in the family.

Arney’s proposed Fire Department budget jumped from $222,430 this year to a requested $642,564 including $150,000 for a new addition to the fire station and $240,000 to pay ALS paramedics and BLS emergency medical technicians, cross-trained as firefighters, to be on duty 24 hours a day.

Arney, in his fourth year as chief, said, “My job and goal is to take the Fire Department to the next level and keep the town as safe as possible. Fifteen minutes is a long time for someone with a life-saveable cardiac situation to wait.”

With a new Porter hospital opening next year in Liberty Township and its Chesterton ambulance station likely moving some or all its rigs to the new site, Arney said it’s important to minimize any delays in response time to Burns Harbor when people’s lives are at stake.

Fire services go medical

The full-time Chesterton Fire Department also has proposed to its Town Council that it begin offering ambulance service; in both cases Arney and CFD spokesmen said eventually their respective services should pay for themselves through the response/transport fees charged.

Burns Harbor is a volunteer fire department but has managed, for the most part, to have EMTs for the BLS ambulance schedule their duty hours around-the-clock to be on station when needed. For ALS, more rigid scheduling and licensing is required, a process that could take six months to implement.

Arney said the plan is not to move to a full-time Fire Department. “The goal is to have someone ready to roll when the tone drops. I think it will save a lot of lives in our town.” He noted the BLS ambulance already has done so.

Perrine, the Fire Department liaison, said ALS start-up costs could reach almost $500,000 and he doesn’t see that available in the 2012 budget, but he suggested waiting to see what the absent council members have to say about it. A new Town Council will take office Jan. 1 as well.

Other budget decisions needed at some point are whether to authorize the hiring of a fourth deputy marshal for the Police Department, and whether to raise the pay for part-time police officers. Marshal Jerry Price also requested purchasing a new squad car. His 2012 budget proposal of $574,669 is 5.73 percent above this year’s.

Unlike other area governmental units, clerk-treasurer Jane Jordan said the impact of the state’s property-tax caps on Burns Harbor’s 2012 budget will be very minimal.

The requested budgets submitted by town department heads were $461,649 over the estimated $1.33 million allowable property-tax levy next year, yet all but about $50,000 of the overage was tied to ALS ambulance start-up.

This year’s general fund levy was $1.29 million with total town appropriations set at $2.3 million. The 2011 assessed valuation assigned to the town is just over $515 million resulting in a town tax rate of $0.2923.

This year full-time town employees each received $1,500 raises and additional longevity pay; no decision on 2012 compensation has been made.

Overdue projects noted

Early in the workshop Perrine said long overdue is paving/rebuilding portions of Old Porter Road, the main local east/west road through town. “Next year we’ll have to talk about some large, expensive projects and how to pay for them.”

Another anticipated expense when the 2010 census is certified next year is Burns Harbor’s mandated participation in the MS4 federal stormwater protection program; of special concern is how the program will be implemented and overseen by the town at ArcelorMittal’s industrial complex.

Perrine noted if the council had accepted Mittal’s recently proposed agreement to receive extended tax abatement in return for Mittal paying off outstanding town sewer bonds, that would have freed up money to make needed town improvements like Old Porter Road.



Posted 8/18/2011