For this year, the debate has concluded over Voorheesville’s contract with its local ambulance service, but next year’s debate appears to have already begun.
Village Board of Trustees members did not shy away from their criticism of how Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service officials handled contract negotiations before agreeing, seemingly out of frustration, to approve awarding approximately $8,800 in reserve funding. Denise Garrah, chairwoman of the company’s Board of Directors, on Tuesday, July 23, expressed the service’s displeasure of how village officials handled contract negotiations and stressed the necessity for disputed reserve funding, which was the only point of contention during negotiations.
“We haven’t blinked in providing EMS service to the village, with or without a contract,” Garrah said. “That’s not who we are. We are also this community; we, the volunteers, live here.”
She said the service continued to process insurance claims as usual and said its submitted insurance report reflects it.
The board, before Garrah commented at the meeting, approved a slightly revised contract from what was approved during its June 25 meeting after the company submitted one it approved.
The terms remained essentially the same, but eliminated the implicit language directing the company’s assets be turned over to the village if it ceased operating.
Garrah claims the village failed to notify the company before changes were proposed in its contract. The new contract requires the village to notify the company within 60 days if any changes are being proposed. Also, 14-day notice will be required if matters pertaining to the service are on the village board’s agenda.
“It is to avert what has regularly happened; the village notifies us of changes to an existing contract just days before it expires. This past one was just a week and a half,” Garrah said. “You can’t have a dialogue if you don’t know you’re being discussed. … You can’t have a dialogue if you don’t reach out even though we’re physically (about) 50 feet apart.”
Garrah’s claims of a lack of communication during negotiations is the same claim made by village officials, who have said repeated attempts to set up a meeting or communicate in general failed.
The company only knew how negotiations were proceeding through reading local newspapers, according to Garrah, at least over the past few months.
Mayor Robert Conway previously said the village “really had no contact” with the company since March, with its contract expiring at the start of the year. He said the village tried to set up another meeting for several months without success, and the company had been intractable regarding 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 previously told The Spotlight. “I think it was very difficult for the board to go ahead and give them the money.”
Terence Hannigan, an attorney representing the ambulance company, rebutted what he claimed were “reckless” and “blatantly false” statements made to the media.
Hannigan said the company did not “hold the board hostage,” as Conway claimed.
“You objected to paying the money from the reserves, but at some point you relented on that and agreed to do it,” he said. “It was your decision, but it was not a hostage taking situation. … You neglected to mention over the last 12 years the budget has been essentially static.”
Village Trustee David Cardona previously said, as reported in The Spotlight, he was pleased to see the service’s operating budget staying flat. Cardona did and still remains opposed to the reserve funding for the current year and next year unless the company’s needs changed.
Garrah argued the reserve funding was needed and budgeted each year, so when expensive purchases are needed, such as new ambulance, the company has the funds on hand and doesn’t require a large amount all at once. She said the service could not bond for purchases similar to a municipality’s bonding process.
Cardona said he wasn’t pleased to see Garrah continuing the battle with the village.
“When you first started speaking tonight, I was very upset about it because I said to myself we just signed a contract. We didn’t all vote for it, but we signed a contract, and that hatchet was buried and we were moving on,” he said. “You couldn’t bury it. … It showed the rest of folks in the village exactly what I have been saying: You can’t stop fighting with us.”
He did say the company, while it’s budget has remained flat, is only providing “60 percent of the service” for the same amount of money. The county Sheriff’s Office has been providing coverage for its day shift.
The village pays around $28,000 annually into the ambulance service’s operating fund, outside of its reserve fund for capital projects or large purchases, 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.
Cardona previously said he believed a similar conversation would ensue for the agency’s 2014 contract, and he appears right. Garrah said the service would again ask for reserve funding to be maintained.
Garrah said the company is planning to meet with New Scotland officials in August to develop next year’s contract and “would like the village included” in upcoming contract negotiations.
“We maintain that our fiscal policy is sound,” Garrah said. “We are willing to discuss a new contract … but are concerned that the village perceives the ambulance as a significant expenditure to (the village’s) $2.1 million budget.”
The story has been corrected to reflect attorney Terence Hannigan said the ambulance company did not `hold the board hostage.`