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18 Communities Fail to Sign for Paid Ambulance Service

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- With today the deadline, only two of the 20 municipalities receiving advanced life support and ambulance transportation from the city's Fire Department have signed on to continue the service now that it will no longer be free.

The Town of Batavia, the largest user with 419 calls in 2006, the year chosen to determine costs, will pay $22,500, with a one-year payment due Feb. 1. Also confirming a "resolution of intent" is the Town of Bergen, whose 97 calls require a $4,400 fee.

The City Council in October determined that the ambulance service, begun about 10 years ago to relieve the community's two hospitals of the cost, was losing money. Uncollected fees from patients and third-party payers had risen to $1 million, most from calls outside the city.

A collection agency is working on reducing the debt. Billing now is handled by a service in Syracuse, which replaced in-house billing.

The city's goal is to assess the 20 towns, villages and fire districts a total of $110,000. The money will be used to replace one of the Fire Department's ambulances each year. The county's 13 towns, six villages and the Tonawanda Indian Reservation had signed on for the then-free service.

The base year tallied more than 2,400 calls, an average of just above six per day. A formula designed by City Manager Jason R. Molino charted an increase in tax rates. He calculated the rate based on the average assessed property in the county, a $90,000 residence. The fee ranges from an additional $2.45 per $1,000 assessed valuation in Darien to $7.62 per year in the Town of Batavia.

Council action gave the municipalities only 21/2 months to find money for the service. Some the villages of Alexander and Bergen and the Town of Stafford are said to be considering the new arrangement.

Others, according to Molino, are discussing the issue, its effect on budgets already in place and alternatives like Rural/Metro, a commercial service. Some have emergency service tied into their fire departments, but they are staffed by volunteers who probably could not match the response time provided by city paramedics.

A 2008 union contract with firefighters raises the number of paramedics to 24 from 16, staffing that may no longer be needed. Molino said that when all the towns that sign up are counted, a determination will be made by balancing revenues against staffing costs. Union issues are also likely.

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