Chesterton Tribune



Council resuscitates Burns Harbor ambulance and boosts collection effort

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Burns Harbor’s new ALS ambulance service got a needed dose of CPR Tuesday.

During a three-hour budget workshop the Town Council agreed to keep the Fire Department’s ALS service operating through this year and into early 2014 if carryover funds are available.

Council members indicated that as much as they support the seven-month-old service, the town can’t pledge to cover all cash shortfalls for the more than $250,000 annual operating cost.

Commented councilman Jeff Freeze, “I don’t think anybody at this table would question the value of lives; unfortunately, the five of us have to put a dollar figure on that.”

Also agreed was to amend the town ordinance authorizing ALS service to allow unpaid ambulance fees to be recovered by a collection agency. Fire chief Bill Arney said anticipated annual ALS revenue is $80,000 and right now $57,000 is waiting for collection. “The only hope we have to survive is to go after our money.”

The base ALS-1 transport charge is $725 but $825 if more drugs/intervention is needed. Some insurance companies and Medicare/Medicaid only pay a portion of the cost, while other accounts are self-pay.

Councilman Mike Perrine said a reliable, permanent funding source has to be found beyond billable charges, which lag behind service; last year the town enacted a water-hydrant maintenance fee with the understanding the approximately $73,000 it generates annually would go to help support ALS service, but that fee alone won’t be enough.

July 29 the council expressed serious reservations about future funding for the ALS service; since then Arney said he’s fended off rumors and speculation on its fate. “Obviously it will be a sad day for Burns Harbor if we discontinue the service, but I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Other ambulance providers are asking Burns Harbor’s ALS for back-up, stand-by and assistance, driving up call volume as word spreads about the quality service it provides with dedicated personnel, said Arney.

He added he’s heard many favorable comments from town residents about the service, especially from three people whose local ALS care made a tremendous difference in their medical emergency’s outcome. His goal in offering expanded care was to shorten the response time to receive advanced treatment for the town’s 1,300 residents, he said.

The fire chief asked that if the council does decide in 2014 it can’t continue to pay part-time paramedics to staff the one ALS rig 24-hours a day, it give him adequate notice to obtain coverage from another provider for the town. Porter County’s contracted ambulance service through Porter Regional Hospital previously filled that role.

If the Burns Harbor ALS service does fold, its ambulance and equipment would be sold but the Fire Department will continue to operate its basic-life-support ambulance for less-serious medical situations like it does now.

In other action Tuesday, the council agreed to give full-time town employees and elected clerk-treasurer Jane Jordan a 2.6 percent across-the-board pay raise. Except for Jordan, this year full-timers got $1,000 each and police $1,500 each.

The Park Department had requested a $14,366 increase next year to $99,806 for operating expenses; that was trimmed to $95,000 with the direction to use some of its accumulated $11,000 in non-reverting funds for major maintenance and repair projects Park Board president Marcus Rogala said are badly needed.

Rogala also said attendance at the popular children’s day camps is growing steadily, and the board wants to expand additional program offerings as well.

It was announced the Park Department’s annual children’s back-to-school party is Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. at Lakeland Park with a DJ, pizza and snow cones.

Town marshal Mike Heckman said his department needs to add another patrol officer and a new squad car, and Street superintendent Randy Skalku said he needs to replace the 1997 dump truck.

Heckman also said it’s critical that police upgrade their computer system, some of those changes mandated to coordinate with other departments. He estimated the cost could be about $87,000 to replace equipment and convert data from the current outdated operating system that companies don’t write any more.

Jordan said IT projects can be funded with cumulative capital funds.

Skalku said the balance of Old Porter Road that wasn’t previously rebuilt needs to be rebuilt and widened now, but the pricetag will be high. Doing about 75 percent of Old Porter west of Indiana 149 several years ago cost approximately $250,000.

The council agreed it’s time for the town Redevelopment Commission to meet. It hasn’t met all year because its entire TIF income was pledged to repaying sewer bonds, but the council plans to pay them off soon to save interest and free up the annual $600,000 the RDC generates to do other capital projects.

During budget workshops the council didn’t address whether it would commit money to help renovate the town’s newly acquired Westport Community Club, formerly a private community center.



Posted 8/7/2013