When the Monroe Volunteer Emergency Medical Service responds to a call for someone having a heart attack, a paramedic meets the ambulance on the way to the hospital. The advanced life support service that is provided can be the difference between life and death.
Monroe EMS offers a basic life support (BLS) service, but currently pays a private company for the paramedic intercept. It has worked well, but the types of calls requiring a paramedic and the rates for a private service are on the rise.
To gain some control over costs and have its own in-house paramedic, EMS is working with the state to become an ALS service provider, which would also allow it to bill patients directly for the ambulance service.
On Monday the Town Council unanimously decided to allow seed money not to exceed $360,000 to be used from the undesignated fund balance.
Town Councilman Tony Unger noted that the money is also for two paramedic vehicles and expenses to equip the vehicles for the job.
"We also have to realize that some of this cost may continue in year two and three. It may not be a one-time cost," Unger said. "I'm in favor of this, but if it's not managed properly or people in Monroe get very healthy, we'll have to pay for it regardless."
Town Council Vice Chairwoman Debra Heim said after the first year, EMS may ask the state to allow it to raise its rates. Monroe needs to establish a history of billing before it can do this, Unger added.
Using money from the undesignated fund balance is a way to pursue the ALS service without raising taxes. But Unger said that money for the paramedic service should really be in the operating budget.
Councilman J.P. Sredzinski said, "I think we all want it in the operating budget. It's just trying to balance the needs of the town and the ability of taxpayers to pay for it. I think $360,000 is enough of an investment to get us over the hump."
Sredzinski said it is a matter of the cost of public safety being provided by the EMS Commission, rather than a third-party vendor, whose goal is making profits for its shareholders.
Town Councilwoman Debra Dutches said, "My concern as a town council member is the safety of our citizens." She added, that any fund set up would have to be approved first by the Board of Finance.
If the service makes a profit or breaks even, Dutches said the money could be returned to the undesignated fund balance.
Town Councilwoman Dee Dee Martin said, "This is a service that needs to be updated. The first time we don't get to a call in time, it will cost a lot more than $360,000."
During the public comment portion of the Town Council meeting, Ernie LaFollette, chairman of the Monroe Citizen Audit Committee, said bond rating agencies like to see a healthy undesignated fund balance, so using the $360,000 from there could hurt the town's bond rating.
He also said Monroe residents can find all of the medical care they need in a walk-in clinic.
Karen Martin, a Planning & Zoning Commissioner speaking as a town resident, urged the council to approve the funding.
"We need ALS support services in this town. You can't put a price on a person's life."