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Villa “cautiously optimistic” about city ambulance service plan

City of Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa commented Friday on the ongoing discussions being held at common council meetings about the viability of a city-run ambulance service.

“If this venture goes forward, we have to succeed,” said Villa. “And I think we can succeed. I think the information that’s been provided shows that it’s a viable option.”

“I just want to make sure…when we do this, that’s it’s a successful operation. The last thing in the world we want is this to not be successful. So that’s why I’m just a little cautiously optimistic,” said Villa.

Although he has reviewed all the figures that have been presented at previous common council meetings, Villa acknowledged the numbers were estimates only.

“I believe it will be profitable, but to put an exact number to it is very difficult,” he said.

One of the issues Villa said that needs to be addressed is to make sure that there is a clear understanding between the city and the firefighter’s union in regards to the new service.

“Anytime you are changing duties or adding assignments that are not covered in a contract currently, you need to have a [memorandum of understanding],” said Villa.

Villa said he believes that a single ambulance will be enough to run the service. Last year, Whitty proposed running two ambulances, however Villa said the second vehicle wouldn’t be cost-effective.

At last Thursday’s common council committee meeting, Whitty guessed that the city may have to rely on GAVAC, the current ambulance service provider, for about 20% of its emergency medical calls using only one ambulance. However, he stressed that number was only a guess.

Given that the city will still need to cooperate with GAVAC, Villa stressed that maintaining a good relationship with the organization is important to him. He added that he believes GAVAC, which started out as an all-volunteer ambulance service in the city in 1966, would continue to do well, even with with the change. In additional to providing “mutual aid” in the event the city cannot respond to a call, Villa said GAVAC would still provide non-emergency transportation between St. Mary’s hospital in Amsterdam to other hospitals.

According to public IRS filings, GAVAC realized $3.3 million in gross revenues in 2014, and currently serves all of Montgomery County.

At a Public Safety Committee Meeting on Thursday, Alderman Chad Majewski presented budget numbers from four area cities with populations similar to Amsterdam that provide ambulance services to their residents.

According to information provided at the meeting,

  • The City of Glens Falls, with a population of 14,552, budgeted for $510,000 in ambulance service revenue for 2016-2017.
  • The City of Olean, with a population of 14,152, reported actual revenues of $627,646 for 2013-2014 and budgeted for $530,000 in revenue for 2015-2016.
  • The City of Oneonta, with a population of 13,946, reported $1.1 million in revenue for 2014, and budgeted for the same amount in revenue for 2016.
  • The City of Hornell, with a population of 8,473, budgeted for $1.27 million in revenue for 2015-2016.

Complete expense information was not available for all cities, but the council considered an article published by the Post Star on March 11, 2011 that quoted the City of Glens Falls’ fire chief as saying the city realized $438,000 in revenue against expenses of about $100,000 during its first full year of operation.

The agenda for tomorrow’s common council meeting includes a vote to change a section of the city’s charter which currently restricts the fire department from operating an ambulance service. The section which currently reads “…the Fire Department shall not engage in or otherwise provide ambulance services,” was approved by referendum in 2013. The revised law would change the charter to read “…the Fire Department may engage in or otherwise provide ambulance services.”

About Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of AnthemWebsites.com LLC which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.

4 Responses to Villa “cautiously optimistic” about city ambulance service plan

  1. Thom Georgia says:

    While I applaud the Council’s attempt at trying to digest facts and figures, I have to point out their flawed methodology. Mr. Majewski can’t simply look at other cities with “similar populations” and expect an accurate analysis.

    I looked at just the first city in this list of comparisons and need not go any further. Glens Falls may have a total population resemblant of Amsterdam, but that’s about it. I did a quantitative comparison with data readily available from the Census Bureau. The demographics are significantly different, chiefly when it comes to age.

    The average patient requiring the most frequent emergency medical services has a bimodal age distribution among those ages 25-44 and again at 65+ (according to the NIH). Amsterdam has nearly 2000 more potential patients than GF who are at greatest need of EMS. That’s pretty disparate! Especially considering the relative small population size of each municipality.

    Moreover, when conducting such analysis, we would also want to look at the crime-related index. I don’t know about you, but one might want to have an ambulance around if they are the victim of bodily injury resulting from a crime. Glens Falls overall crime index, according to the DOJ, is double that of Amsterdam, and the personal-injury index in GF, the more pertinent factor, is more than 2.5X that of Amsterdam. Glens Falls theoretically receives far more EMS calls for crime-related injuries than our fair city.

    I suppose that’s not entirely bad news; we are a safer community. But it gives nothing close to an accurate extrapolation. This is exactly why I become so frustrated with the self-proclaimed subject matter experts in city hall with actual votes on laws who have zero or no apparent training in political economy or other quantitative methodologies.

    Just because you think you’re informed does not make it so. Mr. Majewski and the rest of the Council seems to be operating on useless information.

    • Tim Becker says:

      The information about the other four cities was not presented as conclusive proof that the proposed service will generate an exact amount of income. I think it would be very hard to find a city that runs a service and matches Amsterdam’s demographics perfectly. Rather, I believe the information answered a more general, broader question – can a small city potentially generate approximately $500K or more from an ambulance service? The answer is yes, and the data proves that general question. And I think that is useful especially in the light of our newspaper editors still demanding “well documented evidence” that the service can generate a profit, even when their own reporters have written several stories containing such evidence.

      That being said, evidence is not the same as proof, and evidence can be disputed. You bring up some interesting points in regards to the differences in demographics between Amsterdam and Glens Falls. Here’s a sincere question – is it actually possible -or practical – to comb through every demographic difference between the two cities and transform the numbers to come up with an accurate estimate of revenues and expenses?

      For instance, I took a look at the crime statistic you mentioned. According to NY DOJ stats, Glens Falls had an average 33 violent crimes per year over the past five years. Amsterdam had an average of 27. If you apply Amsterdam’s crime rate to Glens Fall’s population, we’d figure 21 incidents, a reduction of 12 incidents, which (which if we assume all incidents resulted in an ambulance ride) would reduce their revenue by about $4k to $5k per year (figuring about $350 – $390 average revenue per call). So instead of 510k total, they would have 505k total with our lower crime rate. Scale that up to our population and you get 646k for Amsterdam rather than 652k. Rinse and repeat for every demographic? Does that even work?

      I would add some of the best evidence comes from GAVAC itself. With annual revenues around $3 million, and their statement that the city accounts for 15-20% of their calls, we can quickly estimate that the city brings in somewhere between $450k to $600k per year for them. So it seems whether we look at the 3 different billing company estimates, 4 other cities with similar populations, and GAVAC’s own numbers, we keep coming in around the same range. Is that accurate enough? Or do we need something more?

  2. Thom Georgia says:

    Tim,

    To answer your overall question, no, I do not believe running numbers through every possible scenario will give us a figure with 99% confidence. With that said, however, there are bad metholodlogies, and then there are more inclusive extrapolations. Guesstimating revenue numbers potentially reaching half-a-million dollars is not responsible using questionable data.

    I will note quickly that ‘violent crime’ reports are not the same as the crime-related personal injury index. The latter accounts for instances where personal, not property-related violent crimes, required EMS. I don’t have to guess if an ambulance was called; the PI-index tells me it was…this is why I cited that figure as the more pertinent factor.

    I agree with you that the best information is already available to city officials by virtue of GAVAC’s own call records. I cannot say with certainty that GAVAC hasn’t already provided said records in their entirety to the mayor & council; I can only deduce that is not the case since Mr. Majewski had to pick up the phone and call four other municipalities. (N.B. Hence working off incomplete data).

    But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that by some miracle of genius GAVAC and the Council have shared every variable of data, and the best minds have determined that 15-20% of $3M is generated by city-only EMS calls. And as you state that’s a rough estimate of $450k – $600k.

    With all of this, however, I still have two critical concerns:

    1. A difference of $150K per annum is the difference between 1 ambulance or two leased over a set period; or 3 to 4 professional positions for city employees. With an already reduced, skeleton crew working to catch up with issues like infrastructure and public safety, that’s 3 or 4 pairs of hands to relieve work burdens.

    2. And perhaps more importantly: What is the operating protocol between the city & GAVAC? Does Amsterdam receive priority on a call, and only if AFD is already dispatched does GAVAC then respond to a secondary call? Is there a triage protocol determining who will respond to what types of incidents? (i.e. An MVA with rollover requiring more advanced EMS and therefore higher billing vs. the run-of-the-mill Aunt Ethel fell & can’t get up call).

    These distinctions matter! And they will have significant impact on revenue streams. To my knowledge, these tentative agreements do not go to such depths to dileniate this level of responsibility. It can’t just be “we’ll figure it out as we go”. But that is exactly the M.O. this council is prepared to initiate tonight.

    If I were the mayor, and a constituent came to my office and queried, “Mayor Georgia, will an ambulance service be profitable to the city and in it’s best fiduciary interest?”

    My answer, given the limited data collected, would have to be: “Do I think this venture will be a net increase in revenue? Probably, but can I say with certainty or point to any empirical evidence that this council has provided? Absolutely not! What I’ve seen suggests a probable net profit, and my gut says it’ll be a good service, but that isn’t a guarantee, especially since our own set of variables haven’t been vetted properly.”

    Coming to the council chamber waving a paper with figures from other municipalities should have the same disclaimer every diet-fad commercial has on TV: “prior results do not guarantee similar outcomes”. And let’s be real here…the taxpayers footing this bill need assurance more reliable than a middle schooler’s answer to a Math Olympics problem.

    • Tim Becker says:

      I’m not sure on your questions, have to get back to you.

      Just to be clear, the council is voting on the charter change tonight, not on whether to start the service or not. The change removes the restriction, it’s not a mandate. If we see it in the mayor’s proposed budget, that will probably be a good indicator that it’s a go.