When there are no other issues stirring the pot in Rotterdam, officials can always fall back on the age-old debate over REMS, the nonprofit ambulance service that covers the town well but at some apparent cost to taxpayers.
Supervisor Harry Buffardi recently resurrected the idea of dumping Rotterdam Emergency Medical Services Inc. in favor of Mohawk Ambulance, a private Schenectady-based provider that handles ambulance calls for several municipalities around the region. It’s an idea that first surfaced nine years ago with then-Supervisor John Paolino, but failed to gain traction for any number of reasons.
For one, most residents like the job REMS does; for another, they are afraid Mohawk’s services will be more expensive; for a third, they suspect the private company will be more vigilant in pursuing payment for services than REMS traditionally has been, a notion that scared some politicians.
Indeed, REMS’ reluctance to vigorously pursue payments landed it in serious financial trouble several years ago; trouble that required the town to prop it up to the tune of $10,000 per month. But REMS has toughened up, is in better financial condition and no longer needs town subsidies.
Still Supervisor Harry Buffardi thinks REMS could be collecting more for advance life support calls (which town-furnished paramedics provide but which REMS bills for and is supposed to reimburse the town for). He asserts that this shortcoming, which REMS officials dispute, costs the town “hundreds of thousands of dollars” per year, and has asked Paolino, who is back in town as a special assistant to the comptroller, for a work-up on the savings that might be realized by switching to Mohawk.
Such an analysis is necessary before Buffardi takes any steps to abandon REMS. The service would likely go out of business if the town abandoned it, and while town paramedics and some REMS workers would get picked up by Mohawk, they might not be paid the same or enjoy the same working conditions and benefits.
In short, this issue promises to continue being the political football it’s always been — one that purportedly caused voters to abandon a slate full of Democrats when it was last kicked around. Taxes are, of course, higher now than they were a decade ago, and details of Mohawk’s offer have yet to be spelled out. All these elements need to be updated, and town and REMS officials need to sit down with one another, before taxpayers are asked to weigh in.