Marquette Township officials talk ambulance, fire coverage

MARQUETTE — Marquette Township officials are considering some changes to current ambulance coverage with its 2019 budget.

An increase in on-call coverage for weekends and holidays was discussed during a preliminary question and answer session between the Marquette Township Board and several department heads on Tuesday.

The idea, said Township Manager Randy Girard, would be to decrease the response time for fire and ambulance services on weekends by devising an on-call structure geared toward Emergency Medical Technicians.

“Right now, weekends are covered strictly by on-call –whoever’s available,” Girard said. “We would like to be in a position in 2019 to start having designated individuals be available on the weekends and compensating them for doing that so we could ensure that when the siren goes off we know who is responding.”

Based on preliminary budget calculations, Girard said the change would add $5,200 to $7,000 to the fire department budget in 2019, which could possibly be offset by ambulance calls.

“As you probably know we are running at a significantly increased volume with the ambulance than what we had originally projected,” Girard said. “Which is good, that’s very good. The residents are utilizing the service, the service is demonstrating that it was, in fact, needed from the time that you entered the experiment a little over a year ago.”

He said fire department call volumes are 13.7 percent over the the estimates projected in the 2018 budget, with ambulance runs also performing much higher than expected.

“About $19,500 is what I projected and I think we are significantly surpassing that,” Girard said. “If you look at the transport fees — what was projected for 2017 was a little over $8,000 and we budgeted $19,500 for 2018 and I think our estimated total for 2018 is $52,000 based on the trend that we are following.”

Trustee John Markes said township officials were never interested in making a profit on the ambulance service, and questioned whether the upward trend in ambulance run volume would be maintained into the future.

“Every time we thought about it, it was not planned or anticipated to be a profit,” Markes said. “And even though it might look very good and healthy as we go into this, we need remember that it is a service, that that is what we were trying to do is provide a service. So I would just caution any anticipation of a profit, until we have a long-term view of what is going on. If we end up in a very healthy situation we can all be pleased with that.”

When ambulance service was first considered by the board, Girard said, it was an attempt by township officials to offset the cost of the fire department.

“You know and the other piece to remember on that is the issues with the deciding to go forward with the ambulance wasn’t just with what Trustee Markes just mentioned,” Girard said. “It was also to try and recover some of the cost of our operation because we were doing this anyway, we just weren’t transporting.”

The fire department is funded by a 2.50 mill special assessment on property taxes. The ambulance was purchased for $40,600 by a .19 mill increase to the assessment approved by the township board in June 2017.

The cost of the purchase, as well as equipping the vehicle was paid for in the first year, he said.

If ambulance services were not provided and billed, the special assessment to operate the fire department might need to be larger, Girard said.

“If that wasn’t there, it would have to figure into the special assessment,” Girard said. “In other words, the cost of operating the system, because we were getting no revenue at all from the BLS (Basic Life Support) responses we were doing without the ambulances. That admittedly is a conservative figure, we would hope that it would be higher than that, but at the same time, it’s reduced the need for discussions of increasing the special assessment by that amount. So, there are a lot of moving pieces in here and this is one of those pieces.”

The members of the board asked Girard and Fire Chief Dan Shanahan to put together some more in-depth cost projections related to the proposed staffing shift, which will be considered during its formal 2019 budget work sessions.

Those sessions are expected to be scheduled during the board’s next regular meeting on Tuesday.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.