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Increased Ambulance Coverage and Other Budget Fixes

Stafford, CT – July 2, 2024


The fiscal year has ended, but the books are not quite closed. With another payroll still to go out and a few more bills still to be paid, the final numbers are not quite in. That’s not keeping First Selectman Bill Morrison and Stafford’s CFO, John Lund, from looking to the future. With their eyes on a few trouble spots in the budget, they are looking for solutions that they spoke about at the Board of Finance meeting and then again with me. 


Morrison said several unknowns existed when he came into office: the utility fund, the ambulance budget, and the self-insurance fund. Lund said these areas were “not getting their due attention.” The interim CFO who preceded him had to spend most of her time getting the town’s audits out. Now, though, Morrison stressed that he and Lund have a “hand on the pulse of all the budgets all of the time.”


You can read more about the school’s self-insurance fund and the plan to fix it here, so let’s examine the other two issues. 


The utility fund sounds like exactly what it is–an account that the town draws on to pay utility bills, like electricity or oil. The credits the town is supposed to receive from the geothermal and solar panel projects go into this account, but as we all know by now, the geothermal project did not quite work out as planned. The town will soon be entering mediation on this matter, but in the meantime, Morrison and Lund are looking for ways to drive down the deficit in that account. 


This year’s budget includes money to pay off some solar panels so the town no longer needs to lease them. Lund and Morrison hope to put any savings the town realizes back into this fund to continue to bring down any future deficits. In the past, when this fund has run short, the town has had to borrow from the General Fund, which is undesirable for many reasons, but the biggest is that the General Fund is already lower than the town’s own policies stipulate that it should be.


The ambulance budget also impacts the general fund, but the fix is a bit different. 


As Morrison is fond of saying, towns do not profit from their ambulance services, but he and Lund are focused on “slowing the pace of the deficit.” After looking at the statistics, the town realized it was missing 40% of calls because the ambulance was already out on a call. When that happens, the town has to pay an ambulance from Johnson Memorial Hospital or Somers to cover the call, which costs much more than paying the town’s ambulance crew. 


So, Morrison has crunched the numbers and decided to increase the pay to $21.50 per hour and have a backup crew to work on a per diem basis when necessary. Guaranteeing anyone who takes a per diem call at least two hours of pay should keep the town from having to outsource its ambulance calls for much higher fees. Not only will the town not have to pay an outside crew for as many calls, but they will receive more reimbursements from insurance companies, ultimately increasing the revenue the ambulance generates.


Providing better coverage is just one part of the plan to mitigate the ambulance’s impact on the town’s budget. Morrison and Lund are also working on better reporting to help track expenses more closely, understand where the budget is being spent and what it’s bringing in, and get a better understanding of what it actually costs the town to maintain this service, which it is obligated to provide. 


New members of the ambulance crew are already in training, and Morrison says that he has already noticed an increase in ambulance response.

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