5 August 1981
Lack of Borough Funds May Halt Paramedic Service on Weekdays
The First Aid. and Rescue Squad’s paid paramedic service during weekday hours may come to an end as presently constituted on September 25.
That is the moment when the Borough’s share of the joint municipal funding for the program will be used up. Because of severe budget problems this year, the Borough’s allocation was $7,000 short of its $12,000 share in the cost of the service.
The total wage and benefits package for two full time paramedics during weekday hours amounts to $35,000 this year, up from approximately $32,000 last year. The Township’s two-thirds share came to $23,000, which was allocated in full.
“It’s no secret,” says Squad Captain Edwin P. Obert. “We’ve known all. along, ever since the Borough decided to give only $5,000 of its $12,000 share, that the funding would carry us only to September” Because the paid paramedic program went into effect in May, 1980, the fiscal year for the program runs from May 1 to April 31. The Borough’s $5,000 will have been used up at the rate of $1,000 a month to the Township’s $2,000 in the five months from May through September.
Mr. Obert has alerted Borough Council member and Public Safety Commissioner Barbara Hill, to the problem and asked her for suggestions as to what can be done to keep the service running. Ms. Hill has also discussed the matter with her colleague Richard Magill.
Ms. Hill is out of town this week, but Mr. Magill says that she shares with him a concern about the size of the Squad’s budget and the effect of increasing municipal appropriations on the already strained Borough budget.
“It Is unfair to the taxpayers of Princeton to have imposed upon them the cost of a service which could be paid for by users,” Mr. Magill says. “I know people who use the service who are perfectly able to pay for it. The hospital is a public service institution, but it charges for its services; so does the emergency room and so do doctors.”
Mr. Obert does not object to the idea of charging for calls, if that is what is necessary to save what he regards as an “essential” program, but he feels very strongly that the Squad does not have the capability to administer the collection of fees from users.
He talks nostalgically and proudly of the 40 years in which the Princeton Squad gave the town “the finest available service without any aid from the municipalities,” but he knows that in these times of inflated costs, stiffer state requirements and fewer big donors the Squad needs help. Other municipalities pay capital costs as well as for daytime paramedic service, he says.
Three years ago Mr. Obert went to Borough Councilman Richard Woodbridge to talk about the Squad’s financial and logistic problems. The volunteer organization’s most worrisome difficulty was in getting sufficient manpower to answer emergency daytime calls during the work week.
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A Joint First Aid and Rescue Squad Committee was a formed, with representatives from both municipalities and a from the two governing bodies to address problems systematically. The Committee recommended that the two municipalities provide approximately $32,000 to cover the cost of a paramedic and an emergency technician to answer daytime calls.
The two men who were eventually hired turned out both to be paramedics. They earn salaries in the $14,000- $15,500 range and spend part of their day helping out in the emergency room at Princeton Medical Center while waiting for calls.
Safety Commission Unrealized. Having accomplished its major aim — as well as helping to solve some more minor problems — the ad hoc Joint First Aid and Rescue Squad Committee was disbanded last January. One of its recommendations, the establishment of a permanent Joint Public Safety Commission, composed of representatives from the fire companies, police department, the First Aid and Rescue Squad, the Medical Center and the governing bodies, has not been realized.
Without the committee, Mr. Obert feels he is back to “ground zero” — going to the Borough or Township to ask for suggestions when problems arise. Apart from the immediate crisis of how to keep the paramedic service going, he feels the Squad is doing “fairly well.”
For the first time in six years the Squad has not had to go to the bank to borrow money to tide it over the summer before the annual fund drive in September. This year, contributions have amounted to more than $70,000, including one anonymous gift of $10,000 for updating the radio equipment and a smaller gift with which to replace a generator burned out in the Value Line store fire.
Merchants in town are rallying to provide the mailing costs for the upcoming drive, and an advertising firm has offered its expertise in drafting the appeal letter.
Spending Deferred. There still are capital items that continue to be deferred. The special appeal for funds for a new ambulance raised $26,500 which was added to the $17,000 the Squad itself had saved and $5,000 in operating income to purchase a $48,500 ambulance- Lifemobile. Not so long ago a new ambulance would have cost $17,000 and the Squad thought it would have money left over to re-chassis the old ambulance. That project has been deferred, as has the $1,800 to buy uniforms so Squad members would not have to purchase their own.
Lumping capital replacement value with current operating costs, Mr. Obert speaks of the First Aid and Rescue Squad as being a $300,000 a year operation. And he adds somewhat bitterly, “They (the Borough) are getting it for $12,000.”
In the same gloomy vein, he thinks eventually that the Squad will go “the way of all other states” where ambulance services are run by hospitals, and it costs a patient who breaks a hip $130 for transportation to the emergency room.
—Barbara L. Johnson