Friday, March 16, 2007

Budget Dilemma part 1

CARS- the Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad held a press conference today. The Hook has some of the details. There is much more to the story. I will be at the Community Budget Forum tomorrow so I am hoping this issue is discussed.

My two main concerns are 1) $400 (or more) ambulance transport fee 2) ~$1,000,000 expenditure of taxpayer money for services we get for free at this moment (this is just the first year expenditures, there will be ongoing expenses of salaries, benefits and maintenance). CARS has never been a part of the City's budget, therefore Charlottesville residents have received highly professional service from CARS for free. CARS has relied significantly on its annual fundraising to continue its quality service. Even the threat of charging for transport (by the City's fire department, not CARS) reduces the amount of contributions.

The Fire Department argues CARS service has declined and points to the County Fire/Rescue model. I have not seen data on response times. I will give the fire department the benefit of the doubt- BUT for educational purposes, the Charlottesville fire department is considered a first responder. It is not a surprise if an ambulance comes in behind the fire engine since there are 3 fire stations in the City and only 1 rescue squad. Commonly, the fire department has been the first to arrive and provide initial care.

The County Fire/Rescue model has come about because of a significant population explosion, new, widespread development & increase in number of calls from the County. To supplement CARS, the County has added daytime fire/rescue personnel on CARS ambulances. It makes sense for County taxpayers to add personnel and equipment especially north where the next station is being built (an ambulance is already running from this station). The County has proposed new stations in Ivy and Pantops to further alleviate the burden on CARS and thus response time issues in the City. Charlottesville has not seen the explosion of growth and the County's investments have made it easier for CARS to respond to City residents.

Public safety is essential, this year's proposed budget has the fire department in line to receive ~$2.5 million more than last year. I support the renovation of Headquarters on Ridge Street which is $1.5 million of the money. I strongly support a dialogue between CARS, Fire Dept, and taxpayers, who will be asked to fund the dispute between the two, before we start charging City residents for ambulance transport and commit to a significant, ongoing expense parallel to an existing organization.


Janice said...

The City's motivation is suspect at best, IMHO. Larry Claytor, the President of CARS, has stated that the city didn't even consult with CARS in formulating its budget request. If that's the case, what's really going on here?

The City's numbers are also questionable. They expect to run 1500 calls in the city. They're budgeting (i.e. trying to "sell" to the citizens) that they'll recoup $400 per call. How will this work? Will the other 3000 calls that CARS runs in the city be free, while city fire charges? Will citizens be able to request only the free service? But, if the city is going to be part of the existing EMS system that's been in place for decades (and which it is already an integral part due to its first responder status), then the city will also have to run calls in the county when it's needed and it should have to run calls into the county if it is the closest available ambulance (such as out Fifth St Ext). Those calls cannot generate a bill. So, these numbers are bogus. Plus, only patient transports can be billed, not incidents merely with a response, an assessment and a return to the building.

Besides, if the City has identified response time problems, why wouldn't that have been discussed with CARS first to attempt to resolve the problem? In either the Hook blog, or the DP, someone said that the problem was something in the area of 200 or so calls that were above 8 min in response time from CARS. What were those calls? Were they life threatening calls or BLS (basic life support calls)? Were first responders already on the scene? Many, many questions need to be answered before jumping into the patient transport business. 200 or so calls represents a small percentage of the number of total calls that CARS runs.

So, what's really going on here? Are city fire numbers down? Do they need something to justify themselves? Is Julian empire-building? As I understand it, the county's contract with the city will be over after this year. I believe the city runs about 1700 calls in the county and the city gets paid for it by the county. That contract is up this year, I believe. Is this designed to replace that money -- not to mention the loss of activity?

I say more dialogue with CARS is necessary, and more truth in advertising to the community.

Anonymous said...

The city fire department is not at all interested in working with CARS, they are worried about their own relevancy. CARS is the largest emergency services organization in central Virginia and CFD clearly does not like it at all. Albemarle County Fire/Rescue and CARS have a model working relationship which places the citizens first. The city is struggling for relevance and a reason to justify its own existence. Taliaferro, the former city fire chief and now city council member, is working for his legacy. Many expect that the "Fire and Rescue Services Consolidation Study" recently commissioned by the local govenments will reflect very poorly on the management and effectiveness of the City Fire Department as compared to other agencies - especially CARS and Albemarle County Fire/Rescue. CFD could imagine no worse fate than being merged into two other agencies.

If Chief Warner were actually interested in working with CARS he would have accepted CARS offer to dialogue long ago. Every agency, including CFD, have occasional issues with response times. A full study of all agencies response times is in order and I'm sure what will be found is nowhere near as dire as the City is stating.

CARS has asked the City for YEARS for funding and been denied because the City funds the first responder services of the Fire Department and the local Thomas Jefferson Area EMS Council (a purely educational foundation). If the city were to provide a small fraction of those funds to CARS, city residents would be much better served by CARS - an agency that has been recognized innumerable times as one of the leading EMS agencies in the nation - paid OR volunteer.

janice said...

You are absolutely right. There's no question about it. Fire numbers must be down. City fire has to justify its already bloated budget. When we've got an organization that has served this community for almost 50 years FREE OF CHARGE, and city government doesn't even talk to it when alleged "issues" arise, well, that just doesn't pass the smell test. Why all the hiding of the ball, city council?