Committee of the Whole reviews 2020 budget proposals, ambulance service shortfalls

Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Chatfield’s Committee of the Whole (COW), comprised of city councilors, administration and staff, convened last week to handle a few matters of importance, including the 2020 preliminary city budget.

City Clerk Joel Young introduced the business of the evening, pointing out that in efforts to craft a 2020 budget, it was discovered the ambulance service’s revenue balance is not as healthy as thought. He explained that the number of calls to which the crew responds has averaged the same or more than in previous years, however, the reimbursement rate for those calls – if they’re for an individual who receives Medicare coverage – varies enough that the base cost of a call may be covered, but the mileage cost may not be paid to the service by Medicare. This leaves a gap in the expected amount and the reimbursement received.

Ambulance Director Rocky Burnett concurred with Young’s assessment that the amount that the department is reimbursed does not match up with the amount that is actually due, causing the city to have to dig into capital funding to make up the difference.

Councilor Paul Novotny observed, “So they can get charged $1,200 and Medicare paid only $650, so you’re not whole at the end of the year.”

Burnett said, “Several years ago, we changed the base rate to $750 and $300 per loaded mile, and we can raise the rate all we want, but we’re not going to get paid.”

Young cited that the city pays $11 per capita for the ambulance service’s maintenance and that the 2020 budget rounds that amount up to $14 per capita. “If we were to rely on the per capita charge, it would go up more,” he stated.

Burnett went on to say that the city’s emergency medical technician (EMT) training institute that has served as a school for area EMTs to obtain their certification has lost potential students to other training facilities, particularly to a consortium that offers the training as part of a membership.

Later in the meeting, the council and committee were working to whittle down a preliminary tax levy increase of 9 percent or more to something more feasible to address concerns that Chatfield’s property taxes are rising too quickly and becoming untenable.

Novotny remarked, “Something between $0 and $60,000 needs to go to the ambulance fund…$55,000 to $60,000 would leave the ambulance whole, but the capital goods fund would be (lowered).”

Mayor Russ Smith registered that the local population keeps aging and that there will be more Medicare-paid ambulance calls, after which Novotny spoke up again. “In my mind, whatever it takes, anything nonessential or new this year, we don’t need and it should be taken out,” he said. “We need to make the ambulance budget whole.”

Councilor Josh Broadwater gave his perspective. “I agree on the ambulance, but 9 percent…I’m going to be blunt that I’m going to vote against that,” he said. “We have a great city, but I think the taxes are going to stunt growth.”

Smith interjected that there are differences of opinion about Chatfield’s taxpayer-provided amenities – that those who have children who use the playgrounds and ball fields appreciate their availability, but those who do not have children and still pay higher property taxes to support those amenities being available and maintained often feel differently about the property tax levy.

Broadwater, before the end of the meeting, said, “People might find a house they want to buy, and they’re just about to, but then you add $500 a month to their payment. That’s the biggest concern…management.”

Novotny seemed to agree with Broadwater’s point, and conversation evolved into further discussion about the value of a property versus the amount of taxes people pay to live in Chatfield.

Ultimately, the preliminary budget must be approved at the Sept. 23 City Council meeting, as that is the last meeting before the end of the month in which a preliminary budget must be approved.

The city’s administration will continue to review funds before that date, as the amount the council approves leaves room for the final budget to be reduced – but not increased — in December.