Towns get good news from rescue squad

COPAKE—The Community Rescue Squad gave the towns it serves an early gift this year—a 2020 funding request that won’t send their budgets into cardiac arrest.

Copake Supervisor Jeff Nayer informed the Town Board during budget preparation a couple of months ago that news about the health of rescue squad finances was the best it has been in a long time.

Instead of a request for a funding increase in the thousands of dollars as is often the case, next year the squad asked Copake to up its support by a mere $79.

The annual amount Copake pays towards the rescue squad’s continued operation will be $238,245 next year, up by $79 from $238,166.

Other towns in the squad’s coverage area got similar glad tidings. Ancram was asked for an additional $33 next year for a $101,547 total; Claverack will up its support by $3 to $11,228; Gallatin increases its funding by $4 to $13,669; Hillsdale’s increase is $35 to $107,894 and Taghkanic will chip in an additional $9 to $15,626.

The squad’s total budget next year is $1,157,500 up by .03% or $295 from this year. The squad seeks support for its operation from the towns it serves based on the number of calls it receives annually in each municipality, with the majority of calls coming from Copake.

The squad responds to a total 1,700 to 1,800 calls annually, according to the squad’s Board of Directors Chairman Hugh “Rus” Davis. “That’s a lot of calls for a small squad,” Mr. Davis told The Columbia Paper by phone this week, adding that most of the calls within the squad’s large geographic district result in long travel distances. From the squad’s base on Mountain View Road in Copake, it’s 23 miles to Hudson (Columbia Memorial Hospital) and 18 miles to Great Barrington, MA, (Fairview Hospital). The squad also routinely transports patients to Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck, along with Albany Med and St. Peter’s.

According to the squad’s expense spreadsheet for 2020, the squad won’t escape increased expenses.

Insurance costs for its commercial coverage, dental, disability health and worker’s compensation will go up by $12,500 next year. Ongoing operations costs for things like training, licensing, medical supplies, professional apparatus, uniforms, equipment repairs and maintenance agreements rise by $15,500. Payroll for the squad’s 35 employees (a mix of full- and part-time medics, EMTs and an office employee) will be higher by $13,100 next year.

But what has changed for the better are decreases in banking expenses, down by $12,055 and payments for Columbia County Emergency Medical Service chargebacks, which will diminish by $42,000.

Mr. Davis, who handles the squad’s budget, described the county’s former chargeback or reimbursement system as “convoluted.” The bottom line under the old confusing system was that the squad ended up owing the county money. Mr. Davis said the squad made arrangements and has successfully paid off the debt.

It has also cleaned up its banking practices. When he joined the board, Mr. Davis said the squad had “no money.” It borrowed to pay bills then had to pay fees for the money borrowed. It was “like a cat chasing its tail.”

Now the loans have been paid and the squad is fiscally sound.

Another change is that the squad used to “farm out billing to a third party, which resulted in paying much more than we needed to pay, now we’ve hired someone to do the billing and payroll in-house” at a cost savings, he said.

Mr. Davis noted that the towns still pay the squad “a substantial amount of money.” He said they have all been “cooperative and generous and have helped us work through this and get on sound financial footing.”

In contrast, the news from the Valatie Rescue Squad (VRS) was not as pleasant around budget time this year, when VRS Executive Director Scott Bowman appeared at the October 7 Kinderhook Town Board meeting to ask the town for an approximate $100,000 increase in funding next year, according to a story by Emilia Teasdale in the October 10 issue of The Columbia Paper.

“In 2019, Kinderhook budgeted $209,469 for VRS. The proposed 2020 budget has that number as $308,063. Mr. Bowman said that VRS has been running in the red for several years and this year the squad is looking at a $115,000 deficit.”

He told the board, “The cost of providing the service has just sky rocketed.”

The biggest rescue squad expense is staff. Mr. Bowman told the board the squad employs 35 people, 12 full-time. The Valatie squad receives funding from the towns of Kinderhook and Stuyvesant, as well as Chatham, Ghent and Stockport, with Kinderhook being the largest town the rescue squad serves.

Mr. Bowman said in the story that the VRS had not come to board in five or six years asking for an increase in funding. But now, he said, “We’re just not going to be able to make it.”

To contact Diane Valden email

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