The Stonington Ambulance Corps is an all-volunteer organization, but like the other two ambulance services that serve Stonington residents, charges money for the services it provides.
That money is at the center of a debate that leaves the Stonington Ambulance Corps, Mystic River Ambulance Association and Westerly Ambulance Corps facing $15,000 each in budget cuts.
“The ambulance corps bill for their services; either insurance or Medicare,” said Board of Finance Chairman Glenn Frishman. “While they may be listed as a nonprofit, 501(c)3 entity, they generate significant revenues thus have less need for local government support from the taxpayer.”
But the ambulance services disagree.
“We’re not a business, we’re a nonprofit that provides essential services to the town,” said Vice President of the Stonington Ambulance Services Glendon Riffe.
The Board of Finance at $15,000 each a $10,000 decrease from the 2010-2011 fiscal year and a $15,000 less from First Selectman Edward Haberek's proposed budget.
“In this economy it was the feeling of the majority of the board to reduce the amount of money sent to the ambulance corps,” Frishman said, adding “Citizens are of course free to donate to any fundraiser that the ambulance corps may undertake.”
The Stonington Ambulance Corp holds an annual fundraiser in July that includes a newsletter of updates as well as a safety tip.
“It’s very successful, people in town are very generous,” Riffe said adding that in the past much of the fundraising has gone towards plans to build a new building the current one was built in 1985.
Without the offsets from the town Riffe said, “We’re going to suffer, have to dig into savings which was for a new building.”
Haberek said he was disappointed in the board’s decision: “I wanted them fully funded because they're an important part of emergency management.”
“A paid service would be astronomical,” Haberek said.
And Riffe estimated that a paid service could cost as much as 1 to 1.5 million a year.
According to Riffe the Stonington Ambulance Corp is already preparing for the budget cuts ahead of the May referendum vote on the budget. Some of those options, Riffe said, are speaking with the billing company and looking at what they can do such as who they send to collections and possibly beginning to charge to stand by at school events. Currently, the Stonington Ambulance Corps attempts to work with people who can’t pay the whole amount and they try, Riffe said to not send locals to collectors. The ambulance services also don’t charge if someone decides not to go to the hospital but with the rising costs of fuel the are still paying money to come out.
Still Riffe said “We don’t mind coming out, we would rather people are safe.”
For the moment the ambulance services will continue to prepare for the future.
“All options on the table, we’ll see what happens, times are tough,” Riffe said.