Months of inactivity in negotiations between Voorheesville and its local ambulance service provider ended with contentious reserve funding being awarded — for this year, at least.
Despite opposition from a majority of the Voorheesville Board of Trustees towards approximately $8,800 in reserve funding in the Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service’s contract this year, the board awarded the money at its June 25 meeting. The reserve account is typically used for vehicle purchases and capital projects. The vote was 3-1, with Deputy Mayor Richard Berger absent from the meeting.
Some officials are accusing the ambulance company of stonewalling contract negotiations, forcing the village to approve the spending to get a contract in place. The previous contract expired at the end of 2012.
“There was some fairly heated discussion on the board about what to do and how to move forward. The bottom line is … the board elected to pay the reserve money to the ambulance (company) in order to move forward,” Mayor Robert Conway said. “None of the board members who voted in favor of it where happy about it and all expressed their concern and displeasure. I think the general consensus was for the wellbeing of the village and its residents that we need to put it behind us and move on.”
Since March, Conway said the village has “really had no contact” with the ambulance service provider. The village had contacted the company since March trying to set up another meeting, but its efforts have been unsuccessful, he said. Conway said the company had been intractable when it came to the issue of reserve funding.
“We felt like we were dealing with an entity that didn’t want to deal with us and I think we felt we were being held hostage,” Conway said. “I think it was very difficult for the board to go ahead and give them the money.”
Attempts by The Spotlight to contact a Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service representative were unsuccessful.
Conway said the village is looking to save money in supporting its own $2.1 million budget. In addition to the reserve funding, the village pays around $28,000 annually into the ambulance service’s operating fund, some of which is reimbursed to the village through billings. The Town of New Scotland and the village split the service’s cost about 60-40.
New Scotland was also considering withholding reserve funding. After ambulance service representatives appeared at the town’s budget hearing, the Town Board restored its portion of funding, according to New Scotland Supervisor Thomas Dolin. The combined reserve funding now totals $22,000.
Dolin said the issue would be revisited this year, and Conway said the village plans to do the same.
One clause added to the village’s recently approved contract requires that if for some reason the Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service were to fold, the funds would be returned to the village or Town of New Scotland.
“There has been some concern about the future viability of the service. They have been having trouble recruiting,” Conway said. “They are the ones that came to us last year and said, ‘We can no longer provide coverage during the day.’”
He stressed he doesn’t “want,” “wish” or is “encouraging” for the ambulance service provider to close, but hopes to discuss how to continue providing services to the village even if it is under a different model.
Another addition requires the company to collect billing revenue and provide the village with revenues. Conway said he has heard “conflicting stories” about if the company has or has not been billing.
Village Trustee David Cardona said there was a verbal conversation between Trustee John Stevens and ambulance service Captain Ray Ginter after the village board approved a new contract. Cardona said it appears the company will approve it, as well.
“I think we have a pretty good contract now so I hope they will sign it,” Cardona said.
Cardona stressed he only voted against the contract due to the reserve funding. He has been pleased to see its operating budget staying flat.
“Those reserve funds are a must, but looking at the village this year we need to cut back some things,” Cardona said. “I just feel the current situation with ambulance, they could have forgone the contingency funds this year.”
Berger, who said he would have voted for the contract if present, said he supports and appreciates the work done by volunteers at the ambulance service and emphasized the village doesn’t want to run the service itself.
“The village has been instructed (by auditors and the state Comptroller’s Office) to become accountable for our funding, and for some reason that is being taken that the village wants to run the ambulance service,” Berger said, “but that is not the case at all, we just want to be more accountable.”
Berger said he hopes the disagreement has been worked out between the village and ambulance service provider and looks forward to having a cooperative relationship.
Conway said he is looking into possible alternatives if the company stonewalls future negotiations, repeating the village cannot be “held hostage.”
“That in no way, shape or form is my desire. That in no way, shape or form is a threat to the ambulance service,” Conway said. “Listening to the board’s reaction to what has happened over the last few months, I think the board is kind of at the end of their ropes. … It is unfortunate. We don’t want to see this happen, we want to see these things resolved.”
Cardona agreed there was little negotiation over the contract.
“They did not budge,” he said. “They gave us a contract and we were to sign it. There was no negotiating.”
Cardona said the town is not trying to “micro-manage” the company, but it does operate using taxpayer funds.
“I have a feeling we will have the same conversation next year,” he said.