JOHNSTOWN – The city of Johnstown will now get more than $60,000 a year from Fulton County to continue providing ambulance services for residents in the county.
While the agreement does provide additional financial relief, it does not completely resolve the issue of overtime pay that has led to 7 of the top 10 highest paid employees in the city being Fire Department personnel, according to a Freedom of Information Law response which The Leader-Herald reported about in January.
At its meeting on Monday, the Johnstown Common Council unanimously approved the contract, which provides the city $60,300 in annual funding from the county. That money will be paid in quarterly installments, and the contract is valid through the end of 2023.
The Fire Department has been providing ambulance services in the city since 2019. While that service does bring in revenue from ambulance charge reimbursements, it also costs the city in staff time — and that staff time comes with ample overtime billing that can be unpredictable, according to Fire Chief Bruce Heberer.
“The issue is every time we send the ambulance out we want to make sure we have safe staffing in case there is a fire called. But it’s in short increments,” Heberer told The Leader-Herald in January. “It seems like a lot, but if you’re talking about the 1,350 or some calls that we had for EMS over the year, it breaks down into small increments. They are not there for the whole shift. They are called out when the ambulance is gone and then they come back.”
The fire chief said the department has averaged about $200,000 in annual overtime pay since taking on ambulance services. However, he said those expenses are covered by reimbursements for ambulance charges.
The city’s 2022 budget predicts $405,000 in revenue from ambulance charges, up from $325,000 collected in 2021 and $395,000 collected in 2020. The department’s personal service expenditures in 2022 are set at $245,000 compared to $242,000 last year and down from $285,000 in 2020, according to the city’s budget.
“To lose [overtime] significantly we would need to have one more person per shift,” Heberer said in January. “One of the things that we’re going to discuss is maybe hiring full-time medics that will be a lower cost than hiring a firefighter medic. Somebody who would just do EMS, so that would significantly reduce the amount of overtime,” the chief said. “That’s going to be one of my proposals going through the council, but I’ve just got to do some more research on costs of hiring someone full-time versus paying overtime.”
Mayor Amy Praught said her administration will continue to monitor the overtime situation.
“The treasurer and I are starting to evaluate the costs and the revenue of the ambulance service,” she said. “With the additional money provided by the county, [the Fire Department] can continue to provide the ambulance service right now without affecting the taxpayer. But from our end of things, we’ll be evaluating month to month the revenue coming in and the expenses going out and payroll.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.