KINGSTON, N.Y. — City lawmakers are set to vote Tuesday night on authorizing a transfer of nearly $860,000 from the city’s fund balance to hire more paramedics and EMT’s after the Kingston Fire Department took over the city’s ambulance service from Empress EMS on Jan. 1.
If the vote is approved, the city would shift just under $860,000 from the city’s fund balance to the Kingston Fire Department to add more staff to the city’s ambulance service which has responded to nearly 360 calls in its first month in operation. In early January, the Common Council’s Finance and Audit Committee unanimously agreed to recommend the measure.
The proposal would authorize shifting $859,595,56 from the city’s fund balance into fire department coffers to hire eight firefighters, including three paramedics and five emergency medical technicians, or EMTs. Noble said previously as of Jan. 30 the city had one Advanced Life Support unit and one basic life support ambulance up and running, with the capability of pressing a third ambulance used weekdays for the city’s Mobile Mental Health Unit into service for emergency calls when the need arises.
Mayor Steve Noble said previously that the additional funding will allow the city to have at least two advanced life support ambulances available 24 hours a day.
Lawmakers discussed the measure during a Common Council Caucus on Monday night at City Hall.
Majority Leader Reynolds Scott-Childress said the city will also hire a consultant to figure out billing matters so the city can bill patients’ insurance to recover costs.
Noble has noted on multiple occasions that ambulance service will not be denied to those without insurance.
Scott-Childress said the consultant will also examine future needs to allow the city to hone in on how many people to hire to staff the ambulances in the long run.
Scott-Childress emphasized it’s important to spend this money to ensure the health of the city’s residents.
Alderwoman Jeanne Edwards, D-Ward 4, praised the fire department’s operation of the ambulance service. “They’re doing great,” she said.
During a presentation at January’s Public Safety Committee meeting on Jan. 24, Empress EMS Executive Director Robert Stuck said the company could have provided a dedicated ambulance service just like the Kingston Fire Department is now running.
“The trucks don’t leave the city,” he said, adding the company already had a large “turnout” facility in the city and has a relationship with HealthAlliance Hospital parent WMC Health that extends to all of WMC Health’s facilities.
Empress has a long history of providing quality ambulance service and quality care, Stuck told the committee.
Stuck said Empress has agreements for dedicated resources with other municipalities in the greater Mid-Hudson Region, including the town of Wappingers and most recently the city of Middletown on Jan. 1.
He said even under the previous non-dedicated system, Empress was making 96%-97% of calls, dropping about 10 a month.
“That’s a 3.3% drop rate, with no agreement with the city of Kingston,” Stuck said. “With no dedicated resources that’s a pretty good service with paramedics and EMTs.
When asked about Empress’ average response times, Stuck said they ranged from an average of 5 min and 59 seconds on Sundays to 8 minutes and 13 seconds on Mondays in November, the latest month for which statistics were compiled.
Stuck admitted the previous arrangement called a “system status management wasn’t keeping up with demand in the city.”
Stuck said resources Empress previously had in this part of the county have been moved to serve Modena, Wallkill and Gardiner.
Stuck warned officials there would be a big cost difference between the fire department providing ambulance service and what Empress would have offered. However, he didn’t share further details about the proposal Empress offered the city for providing a dedicated service.
Dennison said on Monday night that the Empress’ presentation did nothing to dissuade the city from continuing with its present plan.
“They came and made their case,” Dennison said. “It was good of them, there was a history, but it didn’t create a reason to change anything.”
The Council is also set to vote Tuesday night on transferring $20,000 to the Kingston Fire Department for a new rescue boat that Department Chief Chris Rea has said will reduce response times and enhance patient care during waterborne emergencies on the Hudson River and Rondout Creek.
Scott-Childress said this will only partially cover the costs of the boat which is expected to cost $500,000. He added that the city is seeking a $500,000 grant to pay the balance of the cost.
In other business, lawmakers are also set to vote on raising fines to $1,250 for city residents who cut down a city-owned tree without receiving the proper permit for the removal of the tree.
Scott-Childress said that some residents were willing to pay the current $250 fine just to be rid of a tree they did not want.
“If you cut a tree, you’ll pay a fee,” Scott-Childress warned residents who try to skirt getting the required permit to remove a city-owned tree.
Lawmakers are also set to vote on legislation formally authorizing the use of certain e-bikes and e-scooters on multi-use paths and in city parks.
Dennison said the new rules would pertain to class 1 and 2 bikes. He said class 1 bikes feature a pedal assist while class 2 bikes also feature a throttle and top out at 20 mph.
Dennison said the bikes have become increasingly popular with those riding in the city, particularly amongst those arriving on multi-use trails like the Empire State Trail.
Under the proposed rules, bikes will be banned from some city-owned parklands like T.R. Gallo Waterfront Park at the foot of Broadway in the Rondout Area and within the confines of the Forsyth Nature Center at Forsyth Park in Uptown.
He emphasized that Class 3 e-bikes, which can reach 30 mph and have a throttle are presently illegal on all streets, roads and multi-use paths in the state outside of New York City.