The 2018 New York state budget created a shared services initiative requiring county officials to craft local plans to eliminate or coordinate duplicate services in order to reduce property taxes. Essex County officials will delay their shared services report in order to focus on the county’s EMS shortage.
The county-wide shared services initiative requires local officials to submit to the Director of the state’s Division of the Budget a finalized plan by September 15th.
Essex County legislators recently received a report from the Center for Governmental Research in Rochester that assessed the status and needs of the county’s EMS system. It found more than half of responders are over the age of 50 and plan to leave the field in the next 5 to 10 years. The volunteer-based system also deals with mountainous topography that increases response time.
The Essex County Shared Services Panel decided to delay its report to the state to allow the county to focus on the EMS situation. Tom Scozzafava is the Town of Moriah Supervisor and Finance Committee Chair. “We don’t have the volunteers any longer because of the state requirements to be certified. And you know people today in today’s world just don’t have the time to devote to all those hours and hours and hours of training to get their certification. So you can’t put anyone on that ambulance it’s not like it was 30 years ago or 20 years ago you know unless they have training including the driver. So that’s what makes it extremely difficult. You just you can’t get the volunteers.”
Town of Wilmington and Chair of the Essex County Board of Supervisors Randy Preston notes that too often it can take an hour for an ambulance to arrive. He says the state must pass legislation to ease what he calls “the EMS crisis.” “It’s not just Essex County. It’s the entire state that there is an EMS crisis that nobody is volunteering anymore. It’s difficult to volunteer. It’s almost at times you know there’s roadblocks. So we’re focusing on trying to make it easier to take these classes, trying to make the classes in order to be certified realistically close by. And I think the consolidated system is definitely where we’re heading but we do need help from the state to get this underway. And up until just recently all we’ve gotten was excuses.”
Town of Willsboro and Vice Chair of the Board of Supervisors Shaun Gillilland notes that the law allows counties to opt out of the shared services report in the first year and complete it in the second year. “I can tell you that all the low hanging fruit has been picked on shared services. We think we’re on the right path and we’re going to concentrate on getting this EMS plan going. You have very delayed response times. You have a smaller pool of volunteers. In the last couple of years we’ve actually had a rescue squad close and then had to hire a commercial ambulance service. Calls in greater and greater percentages around the county are being missed. In the last couple of years we’ve had one and possibly two deaths because of insufficient response times. This is a slow moving tidal wave coming at not only Essex County but all of rural New York if not all of rural United States.”
Essex County wants to create a county-wide response district. But Scozzafava says shared services have been in place for years and the state fails to recognize the county’s needs. “The legislation that the state currently has in place you know really isn’t going to fit the bill for what we want to try and do which is the formation of a county-wide district. You know if they’re really sincere about consolidation or shared services then they’ve got to make the path a little bit easier to go down.”
Special legislation from the state legislature is required for counties to form a county-wide EMS district.