Schenectady County

Rotterdam EMS corps regains health

Rotterdam’s only nonprofit ambulance corps has a pulse, and it’s growing stronger.

Rotterdam’s only nonprofit ambulance corps has a pulse, and it’s growing stronger.

After years of tumult, the Rotterdam Emergency Medical Services Inc. has placed a second ambulance on the road and now is showing signs of vitality. With the aid of town funding, the company is also starting to chip away at the debt it accrued over the course of nearly five years of financial despair, reported Joe VanDerwerker, the president of REMS’s Board of Directors, during a Town Board meeting.

“REMS is in pretty good shape,” he said Wednesday.

VanDerwerker said the company has reduced its fuel debt to the town to $15,000 and anticipates paying the amount in full within 10 months. He said REMS is also paying the Internal Revenue Service $2,000 per month while the company works out a settlement with the agency.

The company has also grown considerably in size. VanDerwerker said REMS now employs 42 workers, which is up from the 16 employees it retained when he became president of the board.

With a full staff and adequate funding, the company isn’t missing as many calls. On average, VanDerwerker said REMS misses about three of the more than 200 calls the company receives each month. Missed calls are handled by Mohawk Ambulance Service.

The current condition of REMS is in stark contrast to the company’s position just one year ago. The IRS had imposed tax liens against the ambulance corps totaling nearly $250,000.

These fiscal woes prompted town officials to withhold any subsidy of the ambulance corps, which was formed by a pair of volunteer companies with the understanding that there would be municipal funding. Board members also debated merging Rotterdam’s town-operated paramedic service with REMS, a concept that later proved unpopular with both entities.

Funding was finally provided to the company by the town of Princetown in November 2008. Rotterdam followed suit in February by contributing a $10,000 monthly stipend.

Rotterdam is now awaiting a report that will allow the town to move forward on a referendum needed to establish a tax district. If approved by voters, the company could become tax-funded much like the town’s volunteer fire departments.

VanDerwerker said that the funding has helped REMS rebound from virtual insolvency but warned that the company still needs help. He urged board members to advance a tax district that would allow the ambulance service to move forward.

“Right now, we’re paying our debts but we’re not moving forward,” he said.

Town Board member John Mertz lauded REMS’s success but wasn’t convinced of the need for a tax district to support the company. Instead, he said Rotterdam should fund the ambulance corps through the town budget.

“If [REMS] is ran properly, it doesn’t need a tax district,” he said.

Supervisor Steve Tommasone disagreed. He said leaving the company subsidized through the general fund could one day leave it prey to the whims of the Town Board.

“That leaves it up to a future board to potentially dismantle the service,” he said.

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