Taking a hard, honest look at this legislation is important particularly with Hurricane Sandy bearing down on New Jersey.
At first I didn’t think much of the bill at all, but then I realized it was sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney so there had to be more to it. And guess what, Save Jerseyans? Sweeney, the king of advocating service consolidation at the county level, wants to effectively replace local volunteers with paid services.
The New Jersey State First Aid Council (NJSFAC) issued the following statement:
The New Jersey State First Aid Council is deeply concerned that the changes proposed in S-1650 / A-2463 will result in a decline in the number of volunteers in EMS services throughout the state, and an explosive financial burden to municipalities. This could be avoided by addressing recruitment and retention issues and creating a process to coordinate a blended system of paid and volunteer first aid and rescue. Not only will it effect the day-to-day operations of local EMS agencies, it will also have a significant negative effect on disaster readiness and response if the number of volunteer squads is significantly reduced.”
While Mayor of Haddon Heights, I calculated that we had over 400 volunteers at any one time between youth sports, civic, religious and school entities representing approximately 20% of the town’s population. Haddon Heights has a volunteer fire department and a volunteer ambulance corp. The fire department has served Haddon Heights for over 100 years, and saves Haddon Heights taxpayers around $1.5 million per year in expense and taxes.
Several years ago, some members of the Haddon Heights’ volunteer ambulance corp branched off to start a paid EMS to serve Haddon Heights. In addition, they signed contracts with Audubon and Audubon Park. The EMS service charges residents for their service, paid for by insurance companies or by direct billing. If you don’t have insurance, which 15% of Americans do not, then you pay the bill out of pocket. This leads to insurance premium increases.
The EMS service is a “non-profit” business but had built a cash reserve of several hundred thousand dollars, with no direct return to the municipality or residents even though the town has funded their vehicles and insurance. On the other hand, the volunteer service, though not perfect, is “free” to residents.
I am not saying there shouldn’t be updated regulations, but it is clear saving taxpayers money is not an objective of this bill.
Governor Christie stated when he vetoed the bill earlier this year, “it will cost the State and municipalities millions of dollars.” I agree because in my small home town of Haddon Heights it has already cost our town and its residents hundreds of thousands of dollars and has discouraged new volunteers from joining the ambulance corp ranks.
This bill should be rewritten with encouraging volunteers to take over paid services in order to save taxpayers money, not the other way around.