The last conversation I had with the late John Scott (Tioga County Fire Coordinator) concerned the requirement for volunteer EMS squads affiliated with local Fire Departments to depend on fundraising and property taxes to sustain operations. All other ambulance services are able to bill the insurance carriers of those they serve.
This never seemed fair to me. I have insurance that would pay for the service. I expect most reading this do, as well. This has been a recognized problem in New York State for quite a while.
To fix it, John explained to me that State Insurance law would require to be changed by legislation. This legislation, this fix for small municipalities, is proposed from time to time. There has never been a more important time or issue for the Village of Owego.
So, how have we been coping? Due to the generosity of one Mrs. Sweet of Boston, and the skill and diligence of former Village Attorney Martin Tillapaugh, the Village inherited the small fortune of $1.7 million in the 1990’s. This money was anticipated to fund a hospital. We couldn’t justify or afford a hospital, so we invested the money.
Over the last decade, beginning with the administration of John Loftus, the Sweet Fund has been depleted to the degree that less than $300,000 remains. The balance was used to fund the daytime operations of the Emergency Squad. Using your emergency cushion to fund ongoing operations is never a good idea, and probably not what Mrs. Sweet would have wanted.
The solution could be at hand. Legislation has been introduced in both the Senate and Assembly to allow volunteer squads to bill insurance carriers. This is the answer for Owego. According to the Binghamton Press of Jan. 24, 2018, Senator Betty Little, a Republican, and Democratic Assemblyman Billy Jones have introduced legislation that “would put local fire departments with EMS services on par with other ambulance providers.”
Owego has a distinct advantage in this case, as our own Senator Fred Akshar sits on the Insurance Committee of the Senate.
We should implore the Village Board, as well as the County (Legislator Marte Sauerbrey) to stand with us and demand the legislation receive serious debate. Ask Senator Akshar to fight for this. Write your own letter to the Senator. Write to your Assemblyman, Chris Friend. We don’t get many opportunities to offset Village expenses by way of State Legislature actions. They can’t often help. In this case, they can save the day. The Senator can help the Village remain solvent. That is the plan isn’t it? Isn’t it?
Otherwise, we will be in the position of funding the daytime operations ($170,000 a year) with tax dollars in less than two years. Ask yourself: Why should Village taxpayers subsidize huge and hugely profitable insurance companies in order to sustain a Village of Owego emergency squad?
The mayor asked us for ideas to improve the Village budget. This is mine.