Oxford Borough trims funding for fire, EMS services
● By Steven Hoffman
Oxford Borough Council decided to trim the funding for fire, ambulance, and EMS services as it was finalizing the budget for 2017.
By a vote of 5-0 at its last meeting of 2016, council decided to provide $50,000 in funding to Union Fire Company No. 1 of Oxford, a slight year-to-year decrease, and less than the $55,000 that had been requested by fire company officials for 2017.
After some more discussion, council members decided to fund the ambulance division at $10,000. There had been a request for a significant increase in funding—to $22,000— for the upcoming year because of an increase in call volume. Oxford Borough provided more than $12,000 to the ambulance division for 2016, so the 2017 figure is a slight decrease as well.
There is a formula that is used to calculate the level of funding that is requested. That formula includes the municipality’s population, assessed property values, and the number of emergency calls.
Oxford Borough manager Brian Hoover explained that the borough doesn’t have to rely on the formula, which would often result in year-to-year increases, but can decide on a set amount for each budget. With limited revenue increases, balancing the annual spending plans is a challenge for Oxford Borough officials. They approved a budget for 2017 with no tax increase—the second time in three years that that has happened. But balancing the budget requires a number of difficult budgetary decisions.
Oxford Borough officials talked about how the number of calls in the borough is higher than the neighboring municipalities. A significant number of calls in the borough come from the Ware Presbyterian Village.
Later in the discussion, council then voted to not fund the Southern Chester County EMS (SCCEMS) at all for 2017. The borough had provided $8,000 in funding for 2016.
The rationale for eliminating the funding for SCCEMS was that they can bill for the services that they provide, and therefore taxpayers shouldn’t be burdened with the costs.
However, Bob Hotchkiss, the CEO of SCCEMS, said in an interview last week that they do not receive adequate compensation from the billing alone and Oxford Borough’s decision to eliminate funding hurts the organization’s ability to serve the community.
“We’re not able to do what we do based on what we can bill,” Hotchkiss explained. “Some insurances pay 100 percent, some pay a portion. We’re not a plumber—if we bill for $100, we don’t get $100.”
Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, in particular, can fall short of the costs of providing the emergency services.
The SCCEMS receives some grant awards and attempts to fund-raise, but, like most fire and ambulance companies, there are significant challenges to meet the needs of the community.
The Southern Chester County EMS, which was established 34 years ago, responds to emergency calls in 18 municipalities throughout southern Chester County. It provides advanced life support services, EMT staffing, as well as EMS education and various community education programs.
According to the SCCEMS website, they have been dispatched to Oxford Borough more than 350 times in 2016, with reports from November and December still to come. Hotchkiss said that overall 17 percent of all the calls originate in Oxford Borough in a typical year.
According to Hotchkiss, SCCEMS relies on funding from municipalities to provide the services, requesting about one-tenth of one mill from each. Overall, the funding from the municipalities amounts to about one-third of the total SCCEMS budget.
For 2017, the SCCEMS requested $17,000 from Oxford Borough, though the borough historically has not met the funding requests. The borough had funded $8,000, less than half the requested amount, in 2016. Hotchkiss said that he understands that the municipalities have a difficult time balancing their own budgets, particularly the boroughs where less commercial and residential growth has been taking place.
According to Hotchkiss, 13 of the 18 municipalities fund the SCCEMS at the amount that is requested.
“Every township around them funds what we ask for,” Hotchkiss said.
If Oxford Borough stands by its decision to completely eliminate funding, it will be the only one of the 18 municipalities that are served by SCCEMS to do so.
Hotchkiss said that, despite not receiving funding from Oxford Borough, they will continue to respond to the emergency calls.
“We don’t cut anybody off,” Hotchkiss said. “We’re here to serve the community.”
Hotchkiss added that SCCEMS is diligent about providing monthly, quarterly, and annual reports to all the municipalities, and it was concerning that Oxford Borough officials never notified them about the possible elimination of funding.
“There was no communication at all from the borough, and that was odd,” Hotchkiss said. “It was out of left field, and we were caught by surprise. We’ve always had good communications with all the municipalities. This flies in the face of the great relationship that we’ve had with the municipalities. We’re disappointed in the lack of communication. We’re disappointed in no funding.”
Hotchkiss said that he would be happy to talk to Oxford Borough officials to answer any questions about the services that SCCEMS provides, and about the importance of the funding from the municipalities to clarify any misconceptions.
“We always look forward to communicating with the municipal officials. We’re hopeful that we can get our funds back into their budget,” Hotchkiss said.