The Post-Star, Glens Falls, N.Y.
LAKE GEORGE — The Town Board on Monday agreed to hold off on a vote approving the formation of a town-run ambulance service after several residents expressed concerns over increased taxes and asked to see additional information on the plan.
Board members were poised to approve a special tax district that would fund the town-run emergency medical services system, replacing the town’s contracted ambulance service, which has experienced gaps in service in recent years as the number of volunteers continues to decline.
“We have struggled for the last few years with our present EMS situation, which is a nonprofit organization,” said town Supervisor Dennis Dickinson. “We have struggled royally with having a sufficient number of people to work and cover all the hours, and have experienced an increase in the cost, which in the foreseeable future will rise rapidly as we try to overcome this problem.”
The town’s EMS woes are exacerbated during the busy summer tourism season, which brings scores of people to Lake George.
But around half-a-dozen members of the public said the plan would increase the local tax burden and asked to see additional information on alternative options before the plan is approved.
Residents suggested contracting with an additional EMS providers and increasing funding for the town’s current provider, the Lake George Rescue Squad, to attract new members by offering them a salary.
Last year, the town appointed a committee to study the issue, seek alternative solutions and draft a report outlining projected costs for starting a town-run EMS system. A final report was released last year on the town’s website.
If approved, the new tax district would take effect in January 2022 and would encompass anyone who lives in the town and village.
“I would like to see the committee push a pause button for one month. No longer than that. I would like to see some of the alternatives revisited and I’d like to see somebody from our ‘concerned group’ on that committee to look at those particular offsets,” said John Kearney, a local resident and former EMS volunteer.
Board members agreed, but said they have vetted all other options and determined none would be viable or save taxpayers any additional money. Under the town’s plan, the EMS district would cost $932,000 its first year.
The town currently pays around $340,000 a year in EMS services, the equivalent to about 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.
Residents would be taxed 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property to fund the town’s EMS system, which would generate $700,000. The remaining $232,000 would be raised through insurance claims.
But residents would save around 20 cents per $1,000 on their town property tax bill because the town would no longer need to pay for its current ambulance service. Residents would only see a net increase of about 30 cents per $1,000 under an EMS tax line.
Dan Barusch, the town’s planning and zoning director, said it’s possible the tax could even be less if additional savings are found as the planning process continues throughout the year.
“That would be the maximum. We could move forward and get through more planning on the department itself and come to a figure that’s less than that,” he said.
Still, some residents said the town’s plan is unfair because property values in Lake George vary depending on location. A lakefront property, for example, has a higher property value than a home located on a side street and the plan would require the two owners to pay different amounts for the same service.
Others expressed concerns about paying additional taxes at a time when COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc and uncertainty remains. They pointed to a yet-to-be-determined rate increase associated with the village’s new wastewater treatment plant, which is expected to come on line in the coming months.
Resident Mary McDonald said asking town residents to pay for a service that will mostly benefit the region’s tourists is not fair.
“Have us shoulder that burden and having us staff events that we as a townspeople aren’t making a penny on, I think that’s unfair for us,” she said.
Dickinson, however, said that taxes have remained low due to money brought in by area tourists.
“We do have an additional burden on EMS during the summer and shoulder seasons. There’s no question about it, and they are increased by some of the events we have. But you’ve got to remember, the tourists are really the ones covering the expenses for the town and that’s what’s enabled us to keep the taxes down,” he said.
The Town Board is expected to vote on a resolution approving the formation of the EMS district at next month’s board meeting.
Chad Arnold is a reporter for The Post-Star covering the city of Glens Falls and the town and village of Lake George and Washington County government. Follow him on Twitter @ChadGArnold.
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