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CRS to fill seven jobs

March 29, 2002|BY DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

dank@herald-mail.com

Community Rescue Service, which laid off five ambulance staffers in January, plans to fill those jobs and two other vacant positions in July 2003, according to a financial plan CRS recently submitted to Washington County officials.

CRS financial projections also show that the ambulance company is counting on receiving an additional $50,000 from the Hagerstown and Washington County governments in the fiscal year that begins in July, plus $75,000 from both governments in the fiscal year beginning July 2003.

Without those grants, CRS probably wouldn't be able to save as much money to replace old equipment or add staff in 2003, CRS Executive Director J. Michael Nye said.

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CRS is projecting it will run a cash surplus of $150,431 this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and $300,953 in the next fiscal year, assuming the city and county continue providing the grants. That roughly $450,000 would be used to replace old equipment, such as ambulances, in future years, Nye said.

"If you're not putting money back for equipment replacement, you're digging another hole," Nye said.

CRS is a private, nonprofit ambulance company serving about 35,000 homes and businesses in and around Hagerstown.

The Hagerstown City Council and Washington County Board of Commissioners each gave CRS $50,000 in the current fiscal year. The $50,000 county grant was in addition to money CRS received as part of the annual disbursement of funds to county fire and rescue companies, which included about $38,000 from the County Gaming Commission and about $78,000 from the commissioners, County Emergency Services Director Joe Kroboth said.

But city and county elected officials say CRS is not guaranteed additional money in future years. Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said if CRS is projecting a sizable cash surplus next year, then it probably doesn't need another city grant.

"The subsidy was to get them through the financial crisis," Breichner said. "If they've got $300,000 (next year) and $50,000 of that is ours, it looks like they don't need it."

"The City Council was pretty emphatic this ($50,000) was a one-time contribution. We're not devoting a line item in our budget to continue funding this," Breichner said. "There was some expectation we might do it this coming year, but that was not a guarantee."

Breichner and City Councilwoman Penny May Nigh were put on the CRS board of directors after the city gave CRS $50,000. The appointments to the board were a condition of the grant. Breichner said he has not seen the CRS projections that were given to the county.

Breichner said he's OK with the city funds helping CRS build a reserve fund, which he said could be available for emergencies.

"I don't mind CRS having a little money in reserve and for our subsidies to go to that," he said.

County Commissioner John L. Schnebly said it is wise for CRS to put away money for future equipment purchases.

"That's sound business practice. You have to be planning. If not, you're not being a good steward," Schnebly said.

Nye said CRS already needs about $545,000 to buy new or rehabilitate old equipment.

Within the next 45 days, CRS will bring in about $340,000 from the sale of two CRS-owned properties, Nye said. All of that money will go toward equipment replacement or upgrades.

In addition to the city and county grants, the CRS board moved to further improve the company's financial outlook earlier this year by cutting staff.

CRS faced financial problems because of an increased call load and because many of the people it treats are underinsured or have no insurance, are senior citizens with Medicare or are poor, Nye said.

In January, five members of the ambulance staff were laid off and one already vacant administrative position was eliminated. One more ambulance staff position was cut after an employee resigned in February, Nye said.

Some worried that CRS cuts would affect ambulance service because CRS can't staff as many ambulances with paid personnel. That increases the odds that all CRS ambulances would be busy and an emergency would have to be handled by ambulance companies from farther away.

"Now we're squeaking by. We're not missing many calls," Nye said.

He said CRS volunteers have stepped in to cover many shifts.

Looking ahead

Nye predicted that demand for CRS ambulance runs will continue to increase, prompting the need for additional staff in July 2003, if not sooner. CRS now has 44 full- and part-time employees, Nye said.

Even with additional city and county support, CRS financial projections for that fiscal year show the cost of additional staff will leave CRS with very little to set aside for future expenses.

CRS income would be only $7,397 more than expenses in the fiscal year beginning July 2003, according to CRS projections.

The County Commissioners required CRS to submit financial projections as a condition of the county's additional $50,000 grant. The projections were not released to the public, but Nye allowed The Herald-Mail to review the information Wednesday.

County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association President L. Jason Baer and Kroboth were given the CRS information about a week ago.

Kroboth said he will meet with the County Commissioners in May to review the CRS projections.

The commissioners also required CRS officials to meet with Washington County Health System officials about an offer to take over CRS' billing and bill collection.

Nye said he met with Health System officials in early February.

"They were unenthusiastic on patient billing," Nye said.

Nye said they are looking into whether CRS could save money on purchases through the health system.

"We're in the process now of exchanging ideas," Nigh said. "Both sides are moving cautiously."

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