Saratoga County delays decision on charging fee to dispatch private ambulances

Wednesday, June 20, 2012
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— County supervisors will wait at least another month to decide whether to start charging a fee to private for-profit ambulances that are dispatched through the county 911 system.

Supervisors voted 19-1 Tuesday to table the proposed fee, at the request of a supervisor who supports some sort of fee.

“What other service does government provide for free that other people profit off of?” asked Supervisor Ed Kinowski, R-Stillwater, who made the motion to table the resolution at the meeting in Ballston Spa.

But he added he thinks the proposed fee — an annual charge equivalent to $36 per call dispatched — is too high. “I want to be able to charge, but I think it needs more analysis,” he said.

As proposed, the fee would probably have been defeated had supervisors voted on it, Kinowski and other supervisors told The Gazette.

Under the plan, for-profit ambulance services dispatched through the county sheriff’s emergency center would pay the equivalent of $36 per call to cover the cost of dispatching services. The $1.8 million annual cost of the dispatching center is paid for with county tax money.

Sheriff James D. Bowen and some supervisors called for a charging policy after the town of Greenfield in April hired Empire Ambulance of Cohoes as its primary emergency medical responder. Empire is a for-profit ambulance corps that makes money by charging insurance companies and Medicaid for individual ambulance runs, while the rest of the county is served by local nonprofit ambulance squads. They also generally bill insurance policies for their services.

Last week, the board’s powerful Law and Finance Committee took the unusual step of sending the proposed fee policy to the full board without a favorable recommendation.

Board Chairman Tom Wood, R-Saratoga, voted to table the resolution but said he would have preferred to address the matter Tuesday, and he believes it would have been defeated.

“I’m opposed to it, I’ve been opposed to it, and I will continue to be opposed to it,” he said.

He and other opponents believe any new fee would simply be passed through to the town hiring the ambulance service. Other critics have said it is unfair to charge some communities and not others for a basic county service.

Wood said he believes the matter will simply come up for a decision at the July 17 supervisors’ meeting, though Kinowski said he hopes to see more discussion and analysis in the interim.

The fee was proposed earlier this month by the county Public Safety Committee, but committee Chairman Bill Peck, R-Northumberland, said he opposes it, even though he helped develop the proposed fee formula.

“I was directed to come up with a fair and honest formula, but my opposition has never wavered,” Peck said after the meeting.

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