Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Burns Harbor to use its own ambulance service

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By LILY REX

The Burns Harbor Town Council began the transition to independent ambulance service at its meeting last night by setting a public hearing for an additional appropriation.

The decision came after Town Council liaison to the Fire Department and Redevelopment Commission Vice-president Eric Hull announced at the RDC’s meeting that Porter Regional has come back with an offer to provide ambulance service for $200,000 per year after it had previously entertained the Town’s proposal for an agreement where in-kind services offset the cost of staging a Porter paramedic in Burns Harbor instead of a cash payment. The agreement would have been similar to the agreement the Town had with Superior before they proposed a hefty hike in price in July, at which time the Town opted out of the service. Burns Harbor has been without contracted ambulance service now for nearly two months.

In its meeting immediately before the Town Council meeting last night, the Redevelopment Commission expressed a willingness to provide funds for Fire Chief Bill Arney to run independent ambulance service through the end of the year following Arney saying he would need only $50,000 to pay six to 10 new part-time paramedics that will staff the ambulance the Town already owns.

Hull began a motion to provide the $50,000 to the Fire Department before Clerk-treasurer Jane Jordan stopped him.

Jordan said the RDC’s available funds are mostly from tax increment financing (TIF) revenue, and TIF revenue cannot be spent on salaries. Hull then said he’d like to designate $50,000 for the Town’s use, the idea being that RDC funds can take care of some other cost and free-up the funds for the Town Council to use on Arney’s proposal. Town Attorney Clay Patton said that action couldn’t be completed unless the Commission knew where the funds would go.

The Commission decided to recess and reconvene after the Town Council’s meeting to get the Council’s input.

At the Town Council’s meeting, President Ray Poparad pointed out that the RDC also gets income from tax abatements, though it is more sporadic income in less predictable amounts. Poparad suggested the RDC use those funds. Jordan said those funds can be used for salaries, but the use of those funds requires an additional appropriation that must be approved at a public hearing that was advertised at least 10 calendar days in advance. It also means that the Commission would have to approve a request for the Council to advertise and hold the additional appropriation before the Council sets the date.

After the Council’s regular meeting, the RDC reconvened to request a public hearing for the additional appropriation. Following the request, the Town Council reconvened to approve and set the public hearing for Sept. 26 at 6 p.m. The Council also approved Arney to begin the process of advertising for and hiring the new paramedics.

The votes were unanimous, but Council member Toni Biancardi had one reservation. “I’m slightly uncomfortable that there’s not a plan going forward,” she said. “I don’t want to cover the end of the year and then have to suspend service again.”

Arney echoed Biancardi saying that organizing ambulance service run by the town is a big job, and he really wants to see the Town provide ambulance service for its residents instead of leaning on a contract where a response can be 20 minutes away. “I really think we need it. I’ve seen it save lives, including people sitting in this room,” he said. “I want it to be sustainable.”

Engineer for the BHFD Wally Macchiarella said the Town needs to sharpen its pencils. “We should not be held hostage by this every year.”

Council member Kevin Tracy responded, “I think we’ve learned our lesson about relying on other people. This is too important of a service.”

 

Posted 9/13/2018

 
 
 
 

 

 

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