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February 26, 2009 - 2:31pm

Union leader cites audit as proof that the city ambulance makes money

posted by Philip Anselmo in batavia, city council, fire department, ambulance.

Could the city's claims that the ambulance service was losing money and had to be nixed have been a "deceitful attempt" to get rid of some of the city's firefighters? That's the conclusion following an independent audit of the city's finances that allegedly shows that the ambulance has been in the black every year except one for the past five years. The decision to end the city ambulance service as of September 1 was made at a City Council meeting last month. The vote was unanimous.

Greg Ireland, president of the Firefighters Local 896, met with us today outside the city fire hall to talk about that audit.

"It's plain and simple: the numbers don't lie," he said. "Revenues exceeded expenditures, period."

If you visit the new Batavia ambulance Web site you can get a closer look at those numbers. Ireland had the audit put together by Kevin Decker, president of the Albany-based independent firm, Decker Economics. In his report, summarized in a memo that Ireland gave to us today, Decker shows that in the fiscal year 2003-04, the city ambulance fund "recorded an operating surplus (revenues minus expenses) of $529,766." In 2004-05, the fund posted a surplus of $414,006. In 2005-06, the fund posted a surplus of $570,807.

That's the year that things start to change, according to the report.

"To compensate the General fund for resources expended by fire department personnel directly related to ambulance services, the City provided for a transfer from the Ambulance fund to the General fund (of) $921,609."

This shift of expenses from one fund to another—a typical city budget includes several funds, including: general, fire, sewer and water—is known as an interfund transfer, by which expenses or revenues generated within one fund are used to offset those of another.

So, in the following year, 2006-07, Decker's report explains that the ambulance fund posted a deficit of $454,799. That deficit is explained in these terms on the Web site:

"Since people were beginning to question the inter-fund transfers, the city created a better way to hide their ambulance money.  Instead of just picking a number out of the sky, City Hall decided to remove 35% (approximately $1 million) of Firefighter's wages and benefits from the General Fund and put those expenses against the Ambulance Fund.  So without the "transfer", but adding $1 million of "false" expenses, the Ambulance Fund showed a deficit of $454,799."

The interfund transfers continued in 2007-08, but the ambulance fund still posted a surplus of $286,038, according to the report.

The bottom line is that the ambulance service helps subsidize the cost of the City's fire department. In fact, in FY 2007-08, the City's Ambulance fund generated an operating surplus even with a significant portion of fire department wages and salaries included.

If we assume that the level of staffing for fire suppression personnel cannot be reduced any further, eliminating the ambulance service will require the City to come up with other sources of revenue to finance the payroll costs for City firefighters that are currently being subsidized by the Ambulance Fund. This fact has been recognized, and reported to the City, by both the City's auditors and the State Comptroller's Office.

In conclusion:

Absent a complete lack of understanding on the part of City leaders, it would appear that this move to eliminate the ambulance service is a back door and deceitful attempt to reduce the size of the City's firefighting force.

"We want a new vote taken," said Ireland. "We want to educate the public. Then we want a new vote taken."

In a video interview with Ireland taken at the union's informational picket outside City Hall last week, he said that the city rushed the decision to end ambulance service before anyone had a chance to speak out on it.

Ireland said he is open to negotiations with the city. Of course, that would all take place "behind closed doors."

"I'm more than willing to sit down and talk openly with anyone," he said.

On a side note, our appointment this afternoon was to meet with Ireland at the city fire hall on Evans Street. We had to conduct that meeting outside on the sidewalk. Not a bad situation on a nice day like today. But you may ask why. Well, Ireland apologized and explained that the city manager, Jason Molino, called this morning and told him not to meet with the press inside the fire hall. In fact, Ireland's meeting earlier with Dan Fischer of WBTA and Joanne Beck of the Daily News had to be moved to the WBTA studios, he said.

Richard Gahagan
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UH OH Charlie better set this one straight what the heck is going on up there? Sounds like the old shell game to me.
Charlie Mallow
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This is just over the top. I’m not going to debate the EMT’s they deserve respect and this is a real bad situation for everyone involved. These people have always done a wonderful job and still do. I have no idea how they could think anyone on council dislikes our firefighters. There is a point at which this tactic is just not healthy. No one wanted to have to make this decision and we all feel terrible for the EMT’s and their families. We are not monsters. I am very sorry that we had to come to this point and I do think about the people affected every day. It is time to move on; the city is not going provide an ambulance service any longer. There is no going back.
Richard Gahagan
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You missed the whole point, what about the sneaky fund transfers? The people want to know what's going on.
Charlie Mallow
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I didn’t miss it, the information is untrue. Our budget is audited by an independent auditor as well as the state. It is what it is.
John Roach
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In the begining of the ambulance serivce, moeny was moved from one account to another. Like it or not, it was legal. In the past few years the Republicans moved money from the Water and Sewer funds to cover the general fund, and it was legal, just stupid. That was stopped last year. The moving of money from the ambulance fund stopped years ago when it did not bring in enough. Are you saying the auditor and the State are lying? Even if you think some on Council are lying, why would the auditor or the State? Give me a reason to think you know what your saying.
Mark Potwora
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Just a question someone could answer..Who oversees the Ambulance Service..It is the new fire chief..and if it is him ,how come we haven't heard his views on this dept that he runs..Would be interesting to get his take on all this..Someone must be in charge,who is it..
John Roach
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Mark, He is a Department head who takes direction and orders from his boss, the City Manager, who takes his direction from 5 out of 9 Council members. I am sure he gave his opinion in private, where he should.
Mark Potwora
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John thanks..I guess then my point would be ,he would be the one to know if this service was making or losing all this money..And therefore his opinion should be the one cited in what the city should have done..He makes out the budget,thats what he is paid all that money for..
jay aquino
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ther will come a day somebody on city council will need an ambulance. and when the private company doesn't respond then they will say what did i do. what does charlie care he said he probably won't seek election.
Charlie Mallow
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Jay, I care a lot. I'm going to live here my whole life. I have found that anything someone would do to get elected, isn't something that would be good for the city. As dark as things might seem, it will work out in the end for everyone.
John Roach
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Mark, The Fire Chief may or may not know if it is/was or is not making money. I don't know if he is involved in the money end of the business. The bills go to the treasurer or clerk. I don't know how much hands on with the billing he has. You could call the finance office at City Hall and ask.
Leonard Clark
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Mark . . . You really don't need to go fishing around to find your answer. Jason Molino and The City Council know the answer and got their decision right for the people of the City of Batavia. I think people of the city should get behind their leaders on this one. They got this one right. I thank them for their efforts. This is one time our leaders really showed their excellent leadership. Let's not waste the administration's time on this issue.
william tapp
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city of batavia we need the city ambulance, what in the hell you thinking, is some one putting money in your packets?the people are getting tired of you politicians screwing us over.we put you in there and we the people can take you out with our votes.i have used the ambulance 3 times my self and im glad i did, who know what we will get from some one else
Andrew Erbell
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"we the people can take you out with our votes" So find a canditate or two, or nine, willing to run on this platform and when you win, reverse their decision. Simple enough.
Karen Miconi
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When it comes to the need for emergency services, I can tell you from listening to my scanner, there are times when Batavia is so busy, they cant get to their calls fast enough. I sit on the edge of my seat, as I hear dispatch have to repeat themselves over and over, sometimes 15 minutes after the first call. Lack of an ambulance in this city scares me to say the least. Our population hasent dropped in number, it has increased. Another red flag is that our politicians want to be {behind close doors} when discussing our lives, and risks to our health, without an ambulance. HMMMM Sound like a cover-up for some bigger issues that are being hidden from the public. I might be {UNREAD} guys, but I see the BIG PICTURE!Avoidence is the first human responce, and it seems to me there's alot of that going on too. Food For Thought
Karen Miconi
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Get-um Gladis!!!!! Mark,this web-site gets me going!!Should I start keeping a journal of the calls and needs of the public for emergency services. How much more can the people take. Just like the city water deal{NO rate hikes} and how many times have our water bills gone up since the deal went down???? Things are changing and it will be because of the little people rising up.Stick together citizens of Batavia!! Like OBAMA says "IT"S TIME FOR CHANGE", and man is it happening world wide.
jay aquino
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why couldnt firefighter/paremedic do the interview at the fire station? i don't see what the big deal is. i guess its molino throwing his authority out ther.
Andrew Erbell
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Probably because it's an obvious conflict of interest involving a civil servant while performing his work duties, or something along those lines.
Lori Ann Santini
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Mr Aquino and Mr Erbell, Both the people representing the union were off duty at the time of the interview. Mrs. Miconi, You are correct that there are times when we can't keep up with the call volume. We average if you do the math a little over 22 calls a day. 8281 calls/365 days last year. Depending on where we might be transferring a patient to, a transfer can take several hours to complete. That can tie an ambulance up for awhile. If you have questions for your elected officials (City Council) then ask. Go to the City Council meetings. If you are uncomfortable standing up and speaking see if you can address them before or after the meeting or write it down. Make sure they read your letters and acknowledge them. You have that right. You pay taxes for the services you have in the City whether it is garbage pickup, water/sewer or public safety. Mr. Mallow has been very gratious to answer what he can in this forum when it has been asked and he feels he has the answers to give. The only way you as a taxpayer can make change is to be heard. It is never to late to state your peace. Lord knows I do it enough here. LOL. It is never too late to say that you want time to think and vote about a Citywide change that effects all the residents.
Karen Miconi
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We are not done with this corruption, not by a long shot. We want to know where the money went. In who's wallet did our tax money line??? I don't trust any of you, and plan on exposing these issues until you and Jason prove to the people, theres no cover-up. Like I said in my other comment. Where's the 100 Grand that was taken out of the general fund?????Lets see the AUDIT, and lets get an accountant {WE CAN Trust} to take a look @ it. Food For Thought

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