By Carl Corry
The Huntington Community First Aid Squad has turned to the public for help convincing the Town of Huntington to restore a proposed cut to its funding.
In letters, social media and word of mouth, the squad, which is the second-largest emergency services unit in Suffolk and is set to hit a record 6,000 annual calls, is urging people to contact Supervisor Frank Petrone and town board members to state their opposition to the proposed cut and support of the all-volunteer group.
Petrone’s $187 million proposed budget, released at the town board’s Sept. 16 meeting, slated cuts for a number of special districts and contracted services such as HCFAS.
The budget proposes a near 25 percent cut to the Commack Volunteer Ambulance Corps and a 6.6 percent reduction to the Huntington Sewer District.
The town puts HCFAS’s cut at 8.2 percent, or $194,901. However, HCFAS has publicly stated the cut would be $280,000, or 15 percent of its funds. It’s not clear where the discrepancy is coming from, but town spokesman A.J. Carter said the town’s figures are based on its contract with HCFAS.
Nonetheless, the proposed cuts come at a time when HCFAS is seeking to purchase two new ambulances, which each cost $270,000-$280,000, excluding equipment, said spokeswoman Andrea Golinsky. She said HCFAS’s fleet of six ambulances is aging, and there have been delays in purchasing the new vehicles based on new mandated requirements.
Carter said the town’s determination on the cut to the HCFAS budget was based on a review of its finances over the past several years, in which the squad has carried over increasing reserves, ending with $475,000 at the end of 2014.
“At a time when everyone is looking to balance budgets and deal with tax-cap limitations, it’s fair to say that the first-aid squad should be asked to apply some of their accumulated reserves, which comes from tax money, to their operations,” Carter said.
He added the town also took into account that the squad, in its 2013 tax filings, reported $1,293,628 in cash and $1,030,018 in investments, or about $2.3 million total.
Golinsky said the money the squad gets from the town is used for operations, and that the other money is used for contingencies that, in large part, come from community donations. The separate reserve funds could be used for the construction of a substation the squad is considering to build based on a potential nearby medical building and hotel as part of Renaissance Downtowns’ master plan.
Carter said the town recommends that HCFAS consider medical billing, in which a patient’s medical insurance is billed directly, usually through an outside company.
That type of setup is common in rural upstate locations.
More locally, the Commack Volunteer Ambulance Corps is planning to start a medical billing program.
“The Town has been suggesting to us for years that we begin to bill residents for our services,” Golinsky said. “But we are proud of our volunteer legacy, and we want to continue to provide EMS services to our neighbors without charging.”
She continued, “But whether the town attempts force our hand at billing and cuts our funds, or should we be impacted by the extensive upcoming construction next door to us and be forced to consider a substation, or should any other crisis or situation arise that may impact the level of care that we are able to provide to residents of Huntington, we are prepared to protect and serve beyond those town funds as we fight to secure funding. And that point, our contingency fund will become our operational fund, because we know the importance of the work that we do, and will do everything possible to minimize any effect in the level of care that we are able to provide.”
“We are asking the town to reinstate our funds for operations in full, so we can remain financially viable, and both our future as an organization, and the lives of the residents of Huntington remain protected.”