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.”

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.