James City County’s proposed budget suggests a 30 percent funding cut for the county’s volunteer rescue squad due to what administrators are calling low response and lagging participation.
In 2010, the county provided over $74,000 to the volunteer rescue squad, and in the upcoming two fiscal years funding is reduced to $50,000. County Administrator Sandy Wanner told supervisors at Wednesday’s budget work session this was because “they’re not as responsive as they should be.”
County Fire Chief Tal Luton told supervisors that over a one-year period from May 2008 to May 2009, there were 939 calls to the volunteer station, which would have required a minimum of 1,878 volunteer trips. Only 84 members responded, which is about a 4 percent response rate during that time period.
President of the volunteer rescue squad Paul Reier spoke at the budget hearing Tuesday evening, and asked supervisors not to cut funding to his organization.
He told supervisors the costs for maintaining three ambulances and other vehicles has increased, and that the squad’s other source of financial support, the United Way, has reduced their funding by 50 percent because of the county’s relatively new ambulance fee.
This year will be the third year the county has had an ambulance fee, according to Luton. The county bills a patient’s insurance if the county transported someone to the hospital, but the fee is waived if a resident has no insurance or for other hardship. The county was looking for a way to recoup some EMS costs and, according to Luton, the fee brings in about $1.5 million a year, which offsets a little less than 50 percent of the $3 million the county pays for EMS service.
The county collects the fee and fully funds its own EMS department, which has four full-time EMTs who respond to calls. The volunteer rescue squad is supposed to supplement the career county staff, just as the volunteer fire department supplements the work done by the county’s paid firefighters. In turn, the county helps fund each volunteer group.
In an email to one supervisor, Reier said their entire budget could be covered by six percent of the ambulance fee.
He also pointed out to supervisors during Tuesday’s meeting that his department is getting cut, while the volunteer fire department is getting level funding.
According to Luton, volunteer firemen “are really stepping up to the plate,” and he estimates he would need about 18 full-time employees to provide the same service provided by the volunteer firefighters. Those positions would cost the county an additional $1 million, so he feels like the $93,000 given to support the volunteers is money well spent.
In contrast, the participation on the part of the volunteer rescue squad is very low. On top of the low number of volunteers who responded to calls during the one-year period examined above, there were 11 members (out of 27) who didn’t respond to any calls at all.
Luton says he is working with Reier and his staff now to give suggestions, and one of his staff is also analyzing data for the current year. Anecdotally, Luton says he hears there has been more participation on the part of the volunteer rescue staff in the past few months.
Training a new EMT takes a long time, too, Luton points out, and every rescue squad in the state is struggling to maintain qualified staff.
“I know they have some very good members, and lots of loyalty,” he says, but they also still have a lot of work to do.