By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
GREENVILLE — The town’s contract with the Greenville Rescue Squad will expire at the end of this year, and talks have stalled over their future relationship.
Three members of the rescue squad’s board of directors held a press conference Wednesday at the firehouse to air their concerns over the lack of a contract for 2023 and beyond.
“We are currently in our third year of a three-year contract,” board Chairman Ted Nugent Jr. said. “This is our last year under this contract, which expires Dec. 31, 2022.”
Rescue squad officials approached the town board in November and offered a five-year contract, but no progress has been made in negotiations since that time, Nugent said.
The Greenville Rescue Squad was created in 1972 and was an all-volunteer service until 2016, when it was transformed into a paid service that is privately owned and contracts with the town to provide rescue services to the community.
“We do this because we know what value it gives to the town of Greenville,” Nugent said. “We know what this provides if someone has a medical emergency and they call for help. We are here to provide that service, and that is what we are all about.”
Town Supervisor Paul Macko said the town is aware of the importance of the rescue squad and appreciates the service it provides to the community, but the terms of the five-year contract the organization presented to the town late last year were unacceptable.
“Around the holidays they sent me a contract with a $141,000 increase the first year of the contract, and I haven’t heard from them since,” Macko said. “That is out of the question. In this economy, with all the inflation and all the increased costs — they are at about $403,000 [annually] right now, so you add $141,000 to that and the increase is about 34.9%.”
Macko said the rescue squad needs to talk to the town council to work out contract terms that are agreeable to both sides.
“They have to come in and negotiate with us,” Macko said. “My door is open. We have plenty of time to put it together. They have fallen off the map — they don’t even come to the board meetings anymore with their monthly report. We haven’t seen them at a town board meeting, I think, since January.”
Negotiations are now in the hands of the squad’s attorney and the town attorney, Nugent said.
The rescue squad has big expenses they need to cover, Nugent said, including the cost of a new ambulance facility the group is trying to build on a 2-acre property on Route 81. The squad currently works out of a building near the firehouse that dates back to the 1700s, and keeps its three ambulances in three separate locations — one inside the firehouse garage, one under a pop-up tent next door, and a third at a site in Norton Hill.
That is untenable, Nugent said.
“Everything is Band Aids – we are patching things together to operate,” he said.
As a private entity, it is the responsibility of the Greenville Rescue Squad to plan for and pay for a new building.
Beyond that need, there are costly expenses in running an ambulance service, he added.
“We budget employee costs, equipment facilities, vehicle repairs, replacement of equipment as we go throughout the year and into the future,” Nugent said. “We contract with the town since 2016, and that contract has yet to even cover the payroll expenses. The other funds we receive from third-party billing [from patients’ insurance carriers] is what helps us survive.”
The squad is also facing an employee shortage and keeping up with rising pay to attract new EMTs, Nugent said.
“The EMS system across the country is stressed,” he said. “What we’re concerned about is staffing, which is an issue for everybody. Everybody in the country is having issues. We ended up increasing our pay so that we can keep adequate staff and we raised that to $18 an hour back in January, I believe, and then all the other agencies around us started raising theirs to meet us and now there’s agencies that are starting at $24 an hour.”
Some EMTs are working at bigger ambulance companies to obtain benefits, and then supplementing their income by taking on additional hours at smaller companies, such as the Greenville Rescue Squad, Nugent said. It is difficult for smaller squads to compete in the job market, he said.
Macko said the town council would like to come to an agreement and continue the relationship with the squad, but the contract terms currently on the table are not acceptable.
“Given the economy and everything that is going on — we are supposed to abide by a 2% tax cap — how can I bring forward something that is a 34%, 35% increase?” Macko said. “It is behooving to us to try to make it as affordable as we can.”
The service is “essential” and valued, the town supervisor said, but if an agreement can’t be reached, the town could look elsewhere to provide rescue services.
“I want to negotiate an agreement, but if we can’t come to an agreement with them then there is the possibility that we might go to Durham or Coxsackie or one of them and do a mutual contract with another rescue squad,” Macko said. “That isn’t out of the question to provide services, but the jump from $403,874 for 2022 to $545,000 in one year — that’s a crazy amount.”
“Is it essential? Absolutely, and the older your residents get the more you need them,” he continued. “And they do a fabulous job — I would be the first one to say that. It’s not anything to do with the quality of their work, it’s just that as chief executive officer of the town it’s my responsibility to try to do things as affordable as we possibly can for the residents and given inflation, fuel oil prices, gasoline prices, food prices, electric prices — the way everything is up — I can’t bring forward a 34.9% increase in one year. That’s a crazy number.”
Nugent contended the rescue squad is “fiscally responsible” and the contract presented to the town in November is already outdated because the squad now has to raise its pay scale to retain an adequate number of EMTs.
“What we proposed to the town back in November, and with what has changed since November, we are already in the hole because we know we need to raise our hourly employee rate to keep up with the other agencies,” Nugent said.
The current contract between the town and the Greenville Rescue Squad expires Dec. 31, 2022.