With the recent decision by the council that the municipal tax increase will be set at 1.9 percent, departments and the budget committee are beginning to discuss possible cuts to the budget—and among the many suggestions being considered are cuts to the rescue squads.
At a recent meeting, councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose spoke about different ideas that have been passed around by the municipal budget committee for possible cuts to account for the 1.9 percent increase.
Among the potential cuts, Rose said, are for after-hours health inspections; one recreation program; one-third of the police overtime budget, which includes officers for required court appearances; administrative support of senior citizen programs; computer upgrades; and a planning secretary.
And there is a possible cut of 10 percent of the budget for local ambulance squads.
According to Chris Ireland, Bradley Gardens Emergency Medical Services chief, the rescue squad currently receives an annual contribution of $10,000 from the township.
“That is almost half of what it was 17 years ago when I began volunteering,” he said. “Although that sounds like a lot of money, that is roughly what a rescue squad can spend in medical supplies in a year.”
And every time the squad answers a call, Ireland said, they are using supplies that only have a one-time use.
“Or another way to look at it is that this money does not come close to even paying an insurance bill for the year,” he said. “I think it is important for everyone to understand that this $10,000 annual contribution is a part of what allows us to function as a whole.”
Mike Halperin, chief of the Green Knoll EMS Squad, said his group received $12,400 in 2009, and starting in 2010, that was reduced to $10,000. He said the Martinsville Rescue Squad declined any money in the past year to aid the township in its declining revenues.
John Cowley, chief of the Martinsville EMS, did not respond to a request for comment.
“[But] any loss will add concern as all donations are off too,” Halperin said.
If a total of 10 percent is cut, Ireland said, that causes the squad to lose $1,000.
“I know in the time of buckling down that $1,000 does not seem like a lot of money to sacrifice,” he said. “But do many people know how we spend $1,000 per year to cover the cost of epipens? Or the roughly $1,000 that it costs to maintain defibrillators and supply them with pads each year?”
Ireland said that in addition to the equipment, the state has stopped paying for continued education courses required for EMTs, and those on their own cost about $1,000 for mandatory training.
“Medical supplies and training are very expensive,” he said. “We already volunteer our time, so without salaries to cut from, our options are limited as to how we will make up for this loss.”
If the money is cut, Ireland said, he does not know where it would come from in the squad’s budget, or what could be cut.
“I will have to make a very difficult decision on what medical equipment our patients can do without this year,” he said.
For the Finderne EMS Squad, chief Marc Sowden said the cut would be a huge detriment to the squad. He said they receive about $5,000 in donations from residents each year, and aside from that, they have limited funds to purchase equipment, just like in Bradley Gardens.
“We have worked very hard to save money wherever possible,” he said. “If the cuts must happen, we would do everything possible to continue to serve the community as we do now, but it is uncertain how long we would be able to continue as we have no new ways to raise money.”
Sowden said the squad rents its hall and does yearly fundraisers to raise money toward expenses, but he understands that as the community suffers financially, it is harder for residents to give money as well.
“I believe our squad would be the hardest hit, and know the residents in our area greatly appreciate our services and we will do all we can to keep providing them with the best service possible,” he said. “We do not want anyone to lose their job or have taxes raised so they are placed in hardship, but if the volunteers are gone, residents will be faced with bills from the paid services that would pick up where we left off.”
But, Ireland said, he does know that residents have been very generous despite having to cut back, as they have continued to give donations, at least for his squad.
“All I do know is that we have fantastic residents in Bridgewater, and our donations have remained fairly constant with only small fluctuations during periods of economic hardship,” he said. “That speaks a tremendous amount, and indicates that our residents truly appreciate the free service we provide.”
“And I do recognize that everyone is making sacrifices,” he added. “However, if we keep pinching and pinching, something will have to give.”
Sowden said he is proud of the work that the volunteers do, with approximately 96 hours a month spent responding to calls, in addition to maintaining the squad building and ambulance.
“There isn’t much more time they can give to find new ways to raise money,” he said. “So I would say the future for us is bleak.”
Ireland said he hopes that, as the council continues working on what cuts to make, it takes a hard look at all departments to determine where the money could best be used.
“Whether it is government services or vital medical equipment, something will have to give,” he said. “I hope that the township council realizes this when they look harder at the budget, and opt to leave the funding for EMS where it is.”
“Unfortunately, only time will tell,” he added.