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CRS could face staff, service cuts

February 03, 2001

CRS could face staff, service cuts



By ANDREW SCHOTZ And DAN KULIN / Staff Writers


Without more funding, Community Rescue Service might cut staff, reduce service or both, according to a detailed financial report the ambulance company has given the City of Hagerstown.

It's unclear whether the ambulance company will receive the help it says it needs from the city. A majority of City Council members say the city should provide some support to CRS, but they haven't said how much.

Two of the three council members who support assisting CRS say they'd rather give in-kind support than cash, and others suggest the city should look into running its own ambulance service.

Some on the council have also raised questions about CRS' financial management.

CRS is the private nonprofit ambulance company serving about 34,000 homes in Hagerstown and parts of the surrounding area.

The company has asked the city for a $400,000 annual subsidy - $200,000 to cover operating deficits and $200,000 to build a reserve fund for future equipment purchases. CRS interim-Director J. Michael Nye has said the $200,000 for equipment could come from grants from other sources.

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Nye said the ambulance company's finances were sounder years ago when it covered more outlying parts of Washington County, where patients were likelier to have insurance to pay for transports.

Now, the company spends more time, manpower and money on calls in Hagerstown than it gets back through billing or from the city, the report concluded.

The financial report was prepared because the City Council asked CRS in July to answer 17 questions about its finances, administrative structure and future needs.

CRS distributed the report to the Mayor and City Council last Tuesday. As of Friday, only Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said he had reviewed the material.

Metzner, Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and Councilmen Alfred W. Boyer and William M. Breichner said they support helping CRS with its financial troubles. Boyer and Breichner said they'd rather give in-kind support - such as equipment or reduced utility bills - and not a direct cash contribution.

The other two council members, J. Wallace McClure and Susan Saum-Wicklein, said they need to further analyze the situation before deciding whether to support a subsidy for CRS.

The Mayor and council are expected to discuss the report during their Feb. 13 meeting.

The city does not give CRS an annual contribution now, but it donated the land on Eastern Boulevard where its headquarters is. Nye said the land was worth $200,000 to $300,000.

Nye, on behalf of CRS, began pushing for city funding over a year ago.

The CRS report estimates it provided nearly $1 million worth of emergency medical services to the city in 1999.

"They've been taking advantage of us since our inception," Nye said.

Nye said CRS has added more paid staff to keep up with calls, which has increased costs and hurt the company's finances. He said that in the last year CRS has added two or three full-time paramedics and eliminated several part-time positions.

All together, CRS has 26 full-time and 18 part-time paid employees.

Excluding $200,000 for equipment, this fiscal year's $2 million operating budget was $300,000 more than last year's. Nye said the increase is mostly to pay for personnel.

Meanwhile, CRS' income has been unable to keep pace and the company has a deficit of about $167,000 halfway through the current fiscal year, according to the report.

CRS relies on insurance billing and voluntary subscriptions from residents and businesses for most of its revenue. In addition, Washington County provides about $60,000, including a $44,000 allocation the county pays each of the fire and ambulance companies.

Nye said that CRS has suffered a substantial reduction in its "first-due" area - the area where CRS is called first if there's an emergency - in the last five years.

The reduction started in 1995, when the Volunteer Fire Co. of Halfway began its ambulance service, Nye said.

"That's what started it in earnest," he said, noting that Boonsboro, Smithsburg, Williamsport and Clear Spring also expanded their territories.

"It started a mad rush to garnish our first-due area," Nye said.

The shrinking of CRS' territory has led to shortfalls in subscriptions, or annual payments from the public, Nye said.

Last June, CRS decided to raise its subscription rates from $15 to $30 for a single senior citizen and from $35 to $50 for a family. In its fiscal year 2001 budget, the ambulance company counted on these increases to double its subscription revenue, from about $200,000 to about $400,000.

Nye said it appears the company will fall $75,000 short of its fund-raising goal this fiscal year.

Joe Kroboth, the chief of the Volunteer Fire Co. of Halfway, said the effects of expansion may be exaggerated.

"I don't believe that the starting of a service in Halfway was really the catalyst that started a major financial crisis for Community Rescue Service," he said.

Halfway's coverage area is small, Kroboth said.

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