Red Cross ambulance volunteer Ben Jones told the Town Board Tuesday that “the real cost down the line” to run the private, all-volunteer squad after it becomes a town department January 1 will be about $200,000 a year when the salaries of a paid manager and perhaps an assistant manager, a Length of Service Awards Program (LOSAP) for volunteers and capital costs for ambulances and the squad’s building are counted.
“Ignoring the long-term costs of this I think would be a big mistake,” said Mr. Jones, the squad’s first paramedic in 1986 and a key player in the organization for many years.
Supervisor Jim Dougherty’s 2012 preliminary municipal budget proposal calls for spending $59,350 to run the squad, not including town insurance coverage. All four Town Board members argued Tuesday for a higher number that would reflect upcoming expenses as the squad loses its longtime volunteer and unpaid CEO, Joyce Bausman.
Mr. Jones, nodding to Ms. Bausman beside him, told the board: “You have all the energy, all the enthusiasm, all the drive right here.” It seemed to him, he said, that a full-time person would be needed “totally devoted to this effort … Nobody could look at her work and think that it could be done on a volunteer basis.”
“Put a line in there” for an incoming paid manager, asserted Councilman Glenn Waddington, one of Mr. Dougherty’s challengers for the supervisor post this fall, “to be realistic and up-front with our constituents” and give them “an idea what it will cost us down the road.”
“I don’t have that idea yet,” Mr. Dougherty replied.
Defending his proposal, the supervisor said he was being careful to keep the costs down. He noted that Ms. Bausman had agreed to stay on into the first year of town operation. He also said private donations probably would help pay for the squad as they always have.
“I feel equally strongly,” Mr. Dougherty said after Ms. Bausman had argued that the town had to hire a qualified person to prepare for taking over her duties, “we should do an ‘as is’ transaction as of December 31.” That’s when the town will acquire the unpaid squad and all its assets from the American Red Cross under an agreement jointly announced in September by the supervisor and the squad and approved by the Town Board late last month. Mr. Dougherty had said the national organization wanted to get out of the ambulance business — Shelter Island’s is the only squad it operates — and focus on its mission, disaster relief.
Ms. Bausman, a registered nurse and longtime volunteer with the squad — she served as its board chairman for a time beginning in 1976 — said she initially intended to retire from the job six months after the town takeover but had agreed to work further into 2012. But “I’m not here ‘til I’m in my coffin,” she said.
Of his budget, Mr. Dougherty said, “I thought we had it structured nicely and I don’t want to have to fall off the wagon.” He said he had worked with Ms. Bausman to determine the squad’s costs and those were the numbers that he had used in developing the budget.
“I’ve never heard so much scuttlebutt at the post office, the IGA and the ferries” from people who were worried that the town had taken on more than it had bargained for, Mr. Dougherty said. “People are saying ‘Watch out. You’re being taken to the cleaner,’” he told board members.
“I haven’t heard any of that,” responded Councilman Ed Brown. Residents understood the squad was “a vital asset,” he said, and they “want to see some reality” in the cost estimates. He asked Ms. Bausman to submit figures for what the town should expect to pay for a manager-trainee in the coming year. The board must finalize the town budget in the coming weeks to schedule it for a public hearing before adopting a spending plan in November.
“I’m persuaded we’re going to need somebody” to work with Ms. Bausman, commented Councilwoman Chris Lewis. “There has to be a number of some kind in there” for that person’s pay.
Mr. Dougherty, a lawyer and former supermarket chain CEO in private life, said he had been preparing budgets for nearly half a century and the goal in the corporate world was always to keep the numbers to “an irreducible minimum” because otherwise higher figures become inevitable. “It won’t help the process” to add expenses to the budget now, he argued. “Let’s grow into a solution.” He argued it was normal procedure to have to amend the town budget during the year.
“I don’t like budget planning to amend it,” Councilman Peter Reich said during the lengthy discussion.
Noting that the squad always had been funded entirely by private donations, Mr. Dougherty said, “I think we have a good shot” at continuing to receive private funding. The town “should keep the spirit of the first-rate volunteerism and we can continue to enjoy very, very generous support.”