Members of the Thurman Emergency Medical Services — Captain John O'Neill (right), President Jean Coulard (center) and former captain Adam Styers — pose recently for a photograph. The independent agency's funding has been cut from the town's 2013 budget, which is up for a public hearing at 5 p.m. Friday Nov. 16.
The Thurman Town Board has proposed to withdraw its financial support for the Thurman Emergency Medical Services, a move which agency officers said threatens the squad’s existence.
Thurman’s preliminary 2013 budget, calling for a $625,528 tax levy, doesn’t list any money toward the independent agency’s operation, as it has in past years. The budget does include, however, a final payment of $12,685 towards the squad’s ambulance.
The budget, presented at the monthly Thurman town board meeting held Tuesday Nov. 13, is subject to a public hearing at 5 p.m. Friday Nov. 16.
In August, squad officers submitted a proposed EMS budget to the town, citing they needed $115,000 from the town to maintain the round-the-clock services they are now providing.
This preliminary squad budget cited $199,819 in expenses for 2013, offset by both $60,000 in projected revenue for ambulance runs and $11,065 in donations and fundraising. This budget left a $13,079 deficit that the squad would attempt to offset with grants or additional fundraising.
This request for town support was downsized as of Nov. 13, according to a letter to the board this week, to a figure of $75,000.
In the 2012 budget, the town allocated $27,315 towards the EMS agency’s operations, and the prior year, the sum was $33,468.
Wood said the board, in its decision to eliminate its subsidy of the agency, was simply facing severe financial pressure, yet had to keep taxes under control, which the majority of taxpayers and voters supported.
The 2013 budget calls for a town tax levy of $625,528 — the exact amount allowed under the state’s tax cap. That sum represents a 4.6 percent increase over 2012.
This tax hike complies with the state’s so-called two percent tax cap law, Wood said, because the legislation allows municipalities particular amounts to pay for such expenses as pension increases and voter-approved construction projects.
Wood noted that while she fully supported the idea of locally-dispatched and managed emergency health care, allocating $75,000 to the agency would result in a tax increase to property owners of about 20 percent — a hike that local citizens wouldn’t support.
As for a lower amount, like the $27,315 appropriated last year, she said it was the board’s position that since the agency detailed in August how it needed $115,000 to $128,000 from the town to break even on its expenses, allocating $27,000 or so might not reap any benefit for local citizens — but it would certainly boost their tax bills.
More than a half-dozen Thurman squad members showed up for the meeting, citing the faster response times their agency can provide than squads located in adjacent towns, and the advanced training their members are now undergoing.
New Thurman squad captain John O’Neill said locally-based emergency medical services was vital, and supported by the majority of the town’s citizens. He said 78 people had signed a petition calling for town support of the independent agency.
Squad President Jean Coulard complained that the board was allocating money for dog and animal control, yet nothing for emergency medical services except the ambulance payoff.
“People are disgusted with you,” she said to the town board.
But Wood replied the zero allocation for the squad’s operation in the proposed 2013 budget was a matter of the board making prudent decisions on behalf of local citizens.
“We’re charged the fiscal responsibility of the town, Wood said, after hearing outcries from squad members over the elimination of financial support. She noted that the town had 640 property owners whose interests the board must represent.
“We know the squad has needs, but we have to look after the whole town and all its aspects — we have to be realistic about what we can do.”
People in the audience suggested that the town set up a taxing district that would provide ambulance services in town.
Town Board candidate Lisa Marie Binder offered to organize a community dinner to raise donations for the squad.