Oxford Borough likely to reconsider EMS funding cuts
● By Steven Hoffman
In the latter part of 2016, Oxford Borough Council decided to give less funding than was requested to the Union Fire Company No. 1 of Oxford and the ambulance division, and to eliminate all the annual funding—approximately $8,000—for Southern Chester County EMS, which provides advanced life support services for a coverage area that includes 18 municipalities throughout southern Chester County. The decision on the funding was part of the borough's efforts to control spending and approve a budget for 2017 that would not increase taxes on borough residents.
Now, after meetings with officials from the Fire Company No. 1 of Oxford, the ambulance division, and Southern Chester County EMS, Oxford Borough Council will likely revisit those funding decisions at the January 16 council meeting. It is expected that borough council will take action to restore funding to the Southern Chester County EMS.
Council president Ron Hershey read from a prepared statement at the meeting on January 9, explaining that the borough council is trying to be diligent about finding cost-savings whenever possible because the tax burden is heavy on borough residents.
“We already pay the highest millage rate in the county,” Hershey explained. “We thought this was one place among many that we could cut. We're in a difficult situation sometimes. We're trying to do our best.”
Union Fire Company No. 1 of Oxford asked for $55,000 from the borough, while council decided to allocate $50,000 for the upcoming year. The ambulance division requested $22,000, while council allocated $10,000 for 2017—less than the approximately $12,000 that had been allocated in 2016. Officials from both the fire company and ambulance division provided additional information and explanations about why the additional funding is necessary to continue to provide the much-needed services to the community.
Oxford's ambulance division, like Southern Chester County EMS, must continually accept much less from insurance companies and Medicare and Medicaid than the amount that they bill for their services. Additionally, both the ambulance division and the fire company are finding it more difficult to rely on volunteers for the work that they do. The ambulance division has a paid staff now to provide nearly 24-hour, seven-day-a-way service to the Oxford area.
Bob Hotchkiss, the CEO of Southern Chester County EMS, attended the January 9 meeting to answer any follow-up questions from council.
Hotchkiss talked about how the organization receives much less than what it bills, particularly from Medicare and Medicaid patients. He said that Southern Chester County EMS depends greatly on funding from municipalities—this kind of funding now accounts for more than one-third of the total budget.
“Every dollar is important to us... to not have a downturn in operations,” Hotchkiss explained.
According to Hotchkiss, 13 of the 18 municipalities fund Southern Chester County EMS at 100 percent of what they request, including all the municipalities surrounding Oxford. Oxford Borough usually funds less than half of the requested amount from Southern Chester County EMS even though there is a high call volume.
“We answer about 3,000 calls each year, and Oxford Borough has the highest number of calls,” Hotchkiss said. “We're in the borough more than any other municipality.”
The January 9 council meeting was a work session with no votes planned, but several council members indicated that they were prepared to take another look at the funding levels for fire and EMS services for 2017.
Council member Sue Lombardi said that the additional information from fire company and ambulance officials helped explain the need for more funding.
Council member Peggy Ann Russell said that borough council members did not intend any disrespect, and did not want to seem unappreciative for the services that are provided by the firefighters and emergency responders.
Council member John Thompson raised the possibility of instituting a dedicated tax that would be utilized specifically for fire and ambulance services. The borough's Finance Committee may have some preliminary discussions about such a tax. Council could opt to place the decision on whether there should be a dedicated fire and ambulance tax on a referendum and let residents decide.