MALTA — Town residents could see a new tax on their property tax bill next year if the town decides to establish an EMS district to fund ambulance services.
The town currently funds services provided by Malta-Stillwater EMS through its general fund, which also allocates money toward infrastructure and Highway Department equipment repairs.
Supervisor Vince DeLucia said the town provides nearly $500,000 of the $3.8 million general fund to Malta-Stillwater EMS.
"By establishing an EMS district, the money we're funding for the ambulance in the general fund could be used for other things like repairing Highway Department plows," he said. "Residents would have to agree to pay a separate tax."
DeLucia said before the Town Board decides whether or not to put the EMS district up for a public vote in November, they want to collect more information.
"The board has questions like how much a new ambulance costs and what their total payroll is," he said. "Once we get the answers to our questions, we'll decide what direction to go in."
Scott Skinner, executive director of Malta-Stillwater EMS, said he was approached by DeLucia to give a presentation to the Town Board and residents on Monday.
Skinner said Malta-Stillwater EMS receives approximately $488,000 from the town of Malta and $295,000 from the town of Stillwater.
"The funding we receive helps pay salaries for 61 employees, our mortgage, equipment and utilities," he said.
Malta-Stillwater EMS has six ambulances at its two facilities: its main facility on Route 9 in Malta and sub-station on Hudson Avenue in Stillwater.
Since 2011, Skinner said the call volume has doubled from 1,843 to 3,724 projected calls for 2018.
He credits the increase to the opening of medical centers in the town, including Malta Med Emergent Care, Albany Med and Ellis Primary Care.
When Malta Med Emergent Care opened in 2013, Skinner said Malta-Stillwater EMS purchased an additional ambulance and hired an EMT and paramedic.
"There are a lot of sick patients who have heart attacks and strokes, and they expect help in a timely manner," he said.
Malta-Stillwater EMS averages 10 calls a day, Skinner said.
"Malta is continuing to attract more people, so I see our call volume continuing to grow, which will mean we'll have to add more staff," he said. "We have to keep up with the town's growth."
DeLucia said when accidents or medical emergencies happen on the three major roadways that pass through the town — Route 9, Route 67 and the Northway — Malta-Stillwater EMS responds.
"These are trained professionals who administer first aid, medication, and save a life on the way to the hospital rather than just carry that person to the hospital," he said.
Though Malta-Stillwater EMS also bills health insurance companies when their services are utilized, DeLucia said they should have a fund balance for emergencies.
"They should have money that they can stock away for whenever it's necessary," he said. "It's the same with a home."
Malta Councilman Timothy Dunn said the town has several special tax jurisdictions, including a fire protection and library district.
There are also several neighborhood tax districts such as lighting to pay for street lights in certain areas and the Saratoga Lake Protection and Improvement District, in which Saratoga Lake residents contribute to in an effort to protect the ecological health of the lake.
Dunn said there's a cost associated with life-saving services.
"We're trying to minimize the tax burden on residents while providing vital services," he said. "We're very fortunate to have Malta-Stillwater EMS at our service, and we're trying to take a hollistic approach to this process."
Resident Lynda Bablin said she's against the town putting another tax onto residents.
"We don't need any additional taxes in this town," she said. "The ambulance should look into privatization.
"User fees is how this should be paid for, not taxes."
Bablin said Malta-Stillwater EMS is not in financial trouble, so the town should consider cutting the amount they provide the ambulance company.
"They're not financially suffering, so we should cut what we're contributing," she said. "We should re-allocate the money we're giving them and use it more efficiently."
The general operating budget for Malta-Stillwater EMS this year is $2.4 million compared to $2.2 million in 2017.
Stillwater Town Supervisor Ed Kinowski said when he was elected in 2010, the former Stillwater Ambulance Corps. was made up of volunteer members.
"The training requirements have come so huge and it's difficult for people to meet those requirements, so they switched to paid employees," he said. "It's becoming harder and harder to get volunteers."
Kinowski said the town has a separate budget line item that supports the services it receives from Malta-Stillwater EMS.
"We give them as much as they need to support our residents," he said of the $295,772 the town is contributing this year. "It supports our tax base very well and I think what we pay is reasonable."
DeLucia said whether the Town Board decides to put the EMS tax up for a public vote or not, the town will receive services from Malta-Stillwater EMS for years to come.
"Whether it comes out of the town's general fund or a tax district, we're committed to keeping EMS services in the town," he said. "We may decide to put it up for a public referendum, or we may decide to keep it as it is.
"That remains to be seen."