JAMESTOWN – Mayor Sam Teresi Monday night presented members of the Jamestown City Council with new information involving the possibility of the city expanding its public safety services to the community.
Teresi offered new details on his proposed Smart City Capital Investment Program he first brought forward two weeks ago that involves the city using some of the money from that $12.9 million capital investment proposal for the establishment of a city-operated Emergency Medical Services department.
The mayor said he is bringing the proposal forward due to the current privately operated ambulance service – Alstar Ambulance Services – ratcheting down its services in the community in during the past several months. Teresi said the primary reason for the reduction in service by Alstar is attributed to an inability by the company to turn a strong profit because many of the calls they respond to are covered by Medicaid and Medicare, which provides a low reimbursement rate, especially in rural communities like Chautauqua County.
Teresi said that when the private sector is unable to meet the public safety needs of the community, it is time for the local government to step forward.
“This is an effort to acknowledge there is a challenge and a problem and to get prepared to deal with it if we ultimately have to. We hope that we don’t, but we can’t bury our heads in the sand and say that there’s not a challenge and an issue out there,” Teresi said. “This is something that is not an alternative for us. There’s no choice here. This is bare essential public safety and if the private sector is not going to respond and provide, the public sector that is charged and tasked with the public safety of the community must respond.”
As part of the presentation, both of Jamestown Public Safety director Harry Snellings and deputy fire chief Sam Salemme went over information regarding why more medical emergency calls are being dealt with currently by the Jamestown Fire Department, with the primary reason being that there’s been an increased trend of Alstar being “out of service” – which means it is unable to respond to emergency calls at any given point during the day. According to their report, the average number of times Alstar has reported being out of service has increased during the past few months and the length of time the out of service designation lasted ranged anywhere from four hours to 17 hours in August alone.
In addition to reviewing the number of increased calls the fire department has had to deal with the past several months, the report also broke down the cost associated with EMS calls. Using that information, City Comptroller Joe Bellitto went over four options for the city to consider if there came a time that it had to offer a regular and permanent ambulance service to the community. The options ranged from having the city fire department take over services, to establishing a a local development corporation to operate the service.
Bellitto also explained that no matter what plan the city went with, there would likely be an additional net cost to taxpayers – ranging between $400,000 and $1.5 million – with utilizing the city fire department as the most expensive because of the labor contracts that are in place with its members.
Following the presentation, city councilman Andy Liuzzo expressed his appreciation for the work that went into the report, but requested the council hold off on making any decisions on how to proceed until after the new year when a new mayor is in place and when there will also likely be new city council members. Liuzzo is one of three candidates running to fill the open seat left by Teresi, who announced in February he would not be seeking reelection.
Ranking councilman and finance committee chairman Tony Dolce also asked if it was possible for the city to first have a conversation with UPMC Chautauqua and Alstar to see if there was any other way to address the problem without rolling out a new EMS program from the city.
It was not determined if or when the council would act on borrowing the money needed to establish the ambulance service. The current council has four voting sessions remaining for this year, including this month’s voting session, scheduled for next Monday, sept. 30.