Amenia ambulance issue is resolved

Knowing help is just around the corner when you need it most is important as you make your way through life. That’s why the town of Amenia has been so determined to make sure there’s reliable ambulance services for all its residents — at as reasonable a cost as could be negotiated.

The issue came to a head last year, when the hamlet of Wassaic was forced to contract out for emergency services with Northern Dutchess Paramedics (NDP), which charged $500,000 for the privilege. That move caught most of the hamlet’s residents by surprise, and the high cost created a lot of anger.

When the contract was signed in anticipation of 2016, it forced the Amenia Town Board to take a hard look at its emergency services, its volunteer pool and its budget. 

Grappling with the issue has not been easy. There have been numerous meetings with the Wassaic Fire Commission, as well as with the Amenia Fire Company. Details had to be hashed out, and Requests for Proposals (RFPs) sent to possible contractors. It was by no means a simple process.

Yet the Town Board hung in there. It took criticism and complaints, but board members persevered.

The result of all that hard work coalesced with an approved 2017 NDP ambulance service contract, and with a sigh of relief from all involved.

The $650,000, one-year contract provides for Advanced Life Support (ALS) and Basic Life Support (BLS) coverage, with a guaranteed arrival time of no more than 15 minutes and an average arrival time of no more than eight minutes from dispatch.

The responsibility of paying for that contract will not rest solely on taxpayers’ shoulders. While $310,000 will come from taxes, $340,000 will be paid for through billing revenue (i.e., the people who are transported in the ambulance) only — and the town is “relieved from the obligation” of paying more than $310,000.That’s according to town Supervisor Victoria Perotti, who spearheaded efforts to get the whole deal finalized.

The deal isn’t perfect. Certainly taxpayers had hoped for better savings, but ambulance coverage doesn’t come cheap.

While the first year’s cost is $650,000, the second year will only rise by another $50,000, to $700,000, for the same terms. From that amount, $322,000 will be paid for through taxes while $378,000 will be paid for through collected billing. In 2019, the contract will spike another $50,000 to $750,000, with $335,000 coming from town taxes and $415,000 coming from billing.

The board passed the motion to accept the contract terms at its meeting on Thursday, Dec. 1.

This tiered three-year contract is the norm for most municipalities hiring private emergency care providers. And the deal Amenia negotiated isn’t bad. At least it ensures that all town residents will have ambulance care available in the case of an emergency. 

According to the contract, an ALS-staffed ambulance will be present in the town of Amenia 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A backup ambulance will be provided for no additional cost when available. Considering how the volunteer pool is drying up in places like Wassaic (and really throughout the Harlem Valley and beyond), that’s a real advantage. 

It’s simply the reality that volunteer fire companies are faced with — they don’t have enough men and women trained as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) to guarantee their ambulances can be manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And as anyone who has ever had an emergency can attest, having a local ambulance on call can make the difference between life and death.

So, thank you, Amenia Town Board, for resolving a difficult and complex issue. While some may renounce the final cost of the contract, it’s just the price one has to pay today for having lifesavers on standby. And that, few can argue, is a price worth paying.