The Chesterton Town Council has split-vote to pursue the establishment of a
municipal advanced life support ambulance service.
At its meeting Tuesday night, members Jim Ton, R-1st, Sharon Darnell, D-4th,
and Emerson DeLaney, R-5th voted in support of the motion. Member Jeff
Trout, R-2nd, voted against it. President Nick Walding, R-3rd, was not in
This is what the vote means, and at the moment this is all that it
means: Clerk-Treasurer Gayle Polakowski has been authorized to advertise in
the 2013 budget a “non-reverting fund” for the exclusive use of an ambulance
Right now, that’s it. No ambulances will be bought any time soon and no new
The idea, however, is this:
•The non-reverting fund would be used to defray the cost of the service’s
daily operations, its paramedics’ wages and benefits, and the maintenance of
a two-ambulance fleet.
•Revenues from the service—from the fee charged to users of the
service—would be deposited into the non-reverting fund.
•Once the service is up and running, with a tentative start date of April 1,
2013, those revenues are expected to cover all costs associated with the
•The Indiana Department of Local Government Finance would not count the
non-reverting fund against the town, when approving the annual municipal
budget, and it would have no impact on property-tax rates.
•Nor would the service have an impact on any other municipal department’s
budget or on the General Fund. That’s the conclusion of the town’s
contracted financial consultant, London Witte Group.
Should the council opt actively to pursue a municipal ambulance service,
there will be upfront costs. First, Fire Chief Mike Orlich figures it will
take between $150,000 and $175,000 to cover the service’s initial operating
expenses for the first six to eight months. Second, it will cost around
$200,000 to purchase a new ambulance, a used ambulance, and gear and
Begin with the operating expenses. Orlich suggested a loan of CEDIT funds to
pay for those expenses in the short-term. The loan would probably work like
a line of credit, with CEDIT funds being deposited into the non-reverting
fund as needed. Orlich is thinking of a 36- to 48 month repayment schedule
but he anticipates seeing an actual revenue stream from the service in the
first 30 to 60 days.
Meanwhile, Orlich is exploring a number of options for the acquisition of
the ambulances, including grants and public/private partnerships. Moneys
from Cumulative Capital Development—a fund with a dedicated tax rate used
solely for the purchase of emergency vehicles—could also be tapped but
Orlich appears confident that the bulk of the cash needed will come from
Roughly two-thirds of all CFD calls are already medical assists to EMS
personnel. In most cases, the CFD arrives at the scene before EMS does and
begins treatment. The CFD is not reimbursed the cost of responding to such
calls. “I look at this as enhancing the current ambulance service to
residents, not expanding the fire department,” Orlich said.
Four full-time paramedics would have to be hired—in addition to two already
working for the CFD—to bring the number of certified paramedics per shift to
two. A part-time billing clerk would also have to be hired.
A study prepared last year by the CFD indicates that—based on the fees
charged by other regional fire-department ambulance services and the
percentage of claims actually collected on—the CFD could potentially collect
$379,280.63 per year (for 75-percent collection, in the Town of Chesterton
only) if it charged $650 per advanced life support call, $500 for basic life
support, and $8.25 per mile. That revenue would increase to $474,193.13 if
the CFD responded to EMS calls in Westchester Township.
Would such a service, at the end of the year, actually show a net revenue
Polakowski doubts it. “It’s going to be a wash more than likely,” she said.
“There won’t be a lot of profit.”
Trout, for his part, objected to the motion on the ground that it’s sending
the wrong signal. “Everyone’s budgets are getting tighter and here we’ll be
expanding our local government,” he said. The CFD has done “a good job of
putting the numbers together,” Trout added. “But it’s the timing of this I’m
Orlich, in response, expressed the doubt that municipal finances will ever
really improve. “I don’t personally see it getting much better,” he said.
“The state is pushing us to create user fees and pushing folks to pay for
what they get. You can pay (the CFD) a user fee” for ambulance service. “Or
you can pay it to a private for-profit company,” that is, to Porter Regional
Darnell, who voted for the motion, did say something along the same lines.
“Some of the feedback I’m getting is that (our budget was cut last year).
How can we create a new department with four people and benefits?” Darnell
also noted that CEDIT is a tax—the county economic development income tax—so
that properly speaking the new ambulance service would be tax
“It’s a loan,” Orlich replied. “And we would pay it back. We’re asking for a
loan to start it up.”
“You’ll pay for it only if you need the ambulance,” Ton offered. “And
hopefully you have insurance.”
Added Ton, “I look forward to re-establishing a local flavor to our
ambulance service, as opposed to a corporate flavor. I congratulate the
Chesterton Fire Department on its foresight.”
“It’s the single biggest change proposed by the fire department in my 30
years of service,” Orlich said.