Asked to list ways to cut its budget for next year, the Fire Department came up with a reverse proposal: a way to make money.
Fire officials proposed that the city buy and operate its own ambulances rather than contract with private firms. Use of municipally owned ambulances could net the city $378,000 a year, Fire Chief Michael Dolder said.
“With our own ambulances, we could also provide better communication and service,” he said.
Dolder’s suggestion came Monday night as department heads reported to the City Council on ways they can reduce spending. The city faces a shortfall of up to $5 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Budget cuts are needed in every department, according to City Administrator Michael T. Uberuaga.
Dolder told the council that the Fire Department would not have to cut its budget as deeply if the ambulance proposal were adopted. Nonetheless, he noted, the department would still have to delete up to five Fire Department positions if the city budget plunges by $5 million.
The Fire Department and its paramedic program operate a subscription service that is somewhat like a form of health insurance. Called FireMed, the program allows a household to be covered for all paramedic and ambulance service for $36 a year.
Under the existing program, the Fire Department pays a private ambulance firm to provide service on FireMed calls. Dolder said that if the city were to purchase three ambulances, the FireMed subscription income would both pay for the cost of the vehicles and still net $378,000 a year.
Dolder said city-owned ambulances would be equipped with direct communication to the Fire Department. Service could be improved, he said, because both ambulances and paramedics would roll from the same location under one call. Currently, he said, a dispatcher must place two emergency calls: one to the Fire Department paramedic team and the other to a commercial ambulance firm.
The City Council took no action on any of the budget proposals. The council is scheduled to debate the budget suggestions in May and adopt a new spending plan by mid-June.
Uberuaga has said that up to 55 city staff positions may have to be cut under the $5-million shortfall scenario. He said those cuts would be spread through all departments.