Malta voters in November will have to decide whether to support a new ambulance district that will ensure a dedicated tax funds the town’s emergency medical services.
If they want to vote on the referendum, which the town board approved for the ballot in June, supporters are urging voters to make sure they flip their ballot over: the ambulance question is set for the back of the ballots.
“You’ve got to flip over your ballot on election day and vote yes if you want an ambulance district,” said Scott Skinner, executive director of Malta-Stillwater Emergency Medical Services, a nonprofit that provides ambulance services to Malta and Stillwater residents.
The nonprofit has provided ambulance services to Malta residents for 60 years, growing from a small, volunteer outfit to a largely full-time staff of EMTs and paramedics. In 2103, the organization started also serving Stillwater, which funds its services with the nonprofit through a dedicated tax from an ambulance district.
Malta has funded the ambulance services through annual appropriations from the town’s general fund, but advocates of a new special ambulance district argued that the emergency services would be better funded with a dedicated tax, insulating it from funding competition with other services in the town.
Skinner and other representatives of the ambulance provider hosted a community information session on the rooftop of the Mohawk Chevrolet in Ballston Spa on Monday night. Three more public information sessions are scheduled before the November vote:
- Oct. 12 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Malta Community Center, 1 Bayberry Drive, Ballston Spa
- Oct. 19 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Malta-Stillwater EMS Headquarters, 2449 U.S. 9, Malta
- Oct. 21 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. live on Facebook at facebook.com/MaltaStillwaterEms
Skinner said the organization’s staff is primarily funded through insurance billing, with lots of customers on Medicare and Medicaid unable to fund the full cost of an ambulance visit. About $2 million of the organizations overall $3 million budget is supported through billing. The town funding covers the costs of equipment, softwares, facilities and other overhead costs needed to provide daily ambulance services.
Between Malta and Stillwater, the EMS provider covers 77 square miles of area and about 25,000 residents, providing medical transport to the most serious patients at the Malta Med Urgent Care center. The ambulance service operates out of three stations, two in Malta and one in Stillwater, relying on six ambulances and a pair of support cars.
By switching to an ambulance district, Skinner and other proponents hope that the dedicated funding source will mitigate the risk of budget cuts or the politics of holding one service against another in the town’s budget. The town board will still set annual ambulance funding levels and the special district’s tax level.
“We are looking to exist and keep going in the current state,” Skinner said. “That money will be there every year.”
The ambulance service projects it will have responded to 3,800 calls by the end of the year, the most in its history. Skinner said when he started with the organization three years ago, the service responded to about 3,000 calls. Calls for service declined during the height of the pandemic but have increased to record levels since.
“We are the busiest we have ever been,” Skinner said. “The biggest problem is the growth, the growth in the community necessitates (the ambulance district).”
The dedicated tax if approved would be $0.175 per $1,000 of assessed value, the equivalent of about $44 a year for a house assessed at $250,000. The ambulance district if approved would be subject to the state’s 2 percent tax cap, and the Malta town board would have to establish the district’s assessment each year.
Michael Williams, a Democrat running for Malta Town Supervisor and an attendee at Monday’s information session, said he supported the ambulance district referendum. As a former state police trooper, Williams said it is critical to have emergency service available when they are needed.
“I think the town definitely needs paid ambulance services,” Williams said. “The most important thing is to have personnel available.”
Idalia Sepulveda, a longtime Malta resident, at Monday’s session asked questions about how the ambulance service handled cases with non-English speakers and what kind of training employees received. Skinner said the ambulances are outfitted with translation services and other technology that enables remote communication with other medical providers.
Sepulveda said she hopes that the translation technology does not slow down care and highlighted the importance of recognizing the diverse needs of residents in the community. She said she was supportive of the proposal and hoped that others in the community would learn about it.
“I feel very strong that in our community we don’t leave anyone out,” she said. “I think more people need to know more about it.”
Skinner summed up the pitch for the new ambulance district by noting the fact that when you need an ambulance, you don’t want to have to worry about whether and how it will get to you.
“We work 24-7-365, we work in all weather,” Skinner said. “When you call 911, you expect to have someone there. That’s what we do.”