Chesterton Tribune

 
 

Divided Chesterton Town Council moves to create municipal ambulance service

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By KEVIN NEVERS

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 attendance.

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 service.

Right now, that’s it. No ambulances will be bought any time soon and no new paramedics hired.

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 service.

•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.

Seed Money

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 supplies.

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 other sources.

Details

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 surplus?

Polakowski doubts it. “It’s going to be a wash more than likely,” she said. “There won’t be a lot of profit.”

Discussion

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 struggling with.”

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 Hospital.

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 supported.

“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.

 

Posted 8/29/2012