Ambulance company, finance board still at odds over budget request

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Mon., Feb. 24, 2014

Griswold’s board of finance stymied a funding request from the Griswold Ambulance Company for supplementary funding at its Feb. 18 meeting, as the motion to allocate $70,000 for the current fiscal year died without being seconded. Finance Board Chairman Steven Merchant, Sr. said that the finance board wanted to see the ambulance company’s latest audit before allocating more funds. The town allocated $20,000 to the ambulance service in its 2013-14 budget to cover workers’ compensation, along with $36,000 for paramedic costs, he said.

Because the ambulance company is a privately-owned entity, Merchant said, some have questioned why the town funds it at all. “If we give money to them to survive, why don’t we give to any other business in town?” he said. “They should be surviving on their own, but that hasn’t happened yet.”  The finance board has been urging the ambulance service to pursue its unpaid bills more vigorously, he said.

Merchant said that when the ambulance service went out to bid some years back, the local company was able to match a bid from American Ambulance in Norwich. At that time, he said, the ambulance company board assured the finance board that as a fully-reimbursed service, they would be able to function on their own income from Medicare and other insurance providers.

That was 30 years ago, said ambulance company President William Czmyr. A lot has changed since then, with EMS staffing becoming mandatory in 1988. In addition, state statute mandates that towns provide emergency services to residents, including police, fire protection and ambulance service. “We have two fire departments in town and we have the state troopers that the town funds,” said Czmyr. Yet the town has not fully-funded the ambulance company’s budget requests for the past four years, he said. “They didn’t think that not funding us was an issue.”

Czmyr said that his company initially requested $135,000 for this year’s budget, but the finance board cut the amount to the mandated amount for workers’ compensation. In essence, since the company has continued to provide services over the past years, the town owes the company $300,000, he said.

First Selectman Kevin Skulczyck said that he hoped to sit down with ambulance company officials and board of finance members to “look at what we can do for the services we need before we bring a number back to the board of finance.” The town needs an ambulance service, but it must be at a price the finance board finds affordable, he said.

“I’d really like to have a number that the board of finance finds palatable for that service. I’d love to see this thing resolved once and for all,” said Skulczyck. At the same time, he said, “it’s kind of fruitless to try to allocate funds that don’t fit [the ambulance company’s needs]." Ultimately, the goal would be to devise a long-term contract between the town and the ambulance service, he said.

Even if the finance board votes to approve the additional money, the allocation must go to town meeting and then to referendum, said Merchant. Running a referendum would cost the town an additional $4,000 to $5,000, he said. “If we’re a month or two away from the new budget, why would we want to do that?”

The ambulance company, founded by American Legion Post 15 in 1941, has been up for sale since October at a starting bid of $350,000. Company officials said that 911 calls to the ambulance service will still be answered, as they have been throughout the company’s long history of budget issues with the town.

Czmyr said “people have showed an interest” in buying the company, adding that the town was welcome to put in a bid itself.

The ambulance company responds to more than 1,200 calls each year. It serves residents of Griswold and Jewett City and also provides mutual aid service to a number of surrounding towns and their volunteer fire departments.

Merchant said that the fiscal 2014-15 town budget is still being formulated, with departments submitting their budget requests for consideration. A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held in April, he said.


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