Groton Town Board’s preliminary budget hearing last month was a mostly quiet affair, though it did point to some of the problems the Groton Fire Department and Groton Ambulance services have been experiencing over the last several years that may come to a head some time soon.
The actual public hearing portion of the meeting was quite brief -- only one person spoke to the Board, and eventually the Board did not make any final decisions on the budget allocations, opting instead to wait until the Tuesday, Nov. 14 regular business meeting to vote on anything.
But Fire Chief Lance Coit and Fire Department Board Member Lee Shurtleff did present their case for slight increases in both the Fire Department and the Groton Ambulance service’s budget, which is funded by both Groton Town and Groton Village. In both the village and town budgets, each department is requesting $7,500 more than the 2017 budget. It equals out to a total combined increase of $30,000 in funds from $510,000 to $540,00.
The total Groton budget will decrease, but just slightly, from $2,766,627 to $2,747,447. That represents under a one percent decrease total. Most of that difference comes in Town Highway Funding, which fell about $60,000 from 2017 to the proposed 2018 figure.
While that increase in funding seems likely to get approved, Shurtleff said other things are on the horizon for the departments that could cause them to raise their proposal budget requests more significantly in the future, for a few reasons. A few of Groton’s emergency response vehicles are nearing replacement age; one fire engine is actually from the 1990s, though Shurtleff said the department’s maintenance on the vehicle has kept it in working order, while one tanker is from 1986. Though this is perhaps farther away in the future, Shurtleff said one project, a new building to house the fire department, is also influencing some of the budget requests they are beginning to make as they attempt to save money for a long-term investment in a new space.
Additionally, Shurtleff said Groton’s aging population presents some of its own challenges. Medical services are regularly called away on minor evaluation trips like elderly people falling in their homes or in nursing facilities, where protocol is to contact emergency services even if the fall appears minor. Pile on the county’s notorious rising overdose problems, and Groton’s emergency response team is routinely being stretched in various directions.
As for raising more money organically, Shurtleff pointed out to the Town Board that Groton’s fire tax rate, used to make up some of the fire and ambulance team’s budget allocation, is the lowest in the county except for Ulysses, which sits at about 56 cents per one thousand dollars. In Groton’s proposed 2018 budget, the fire tax rate is 87.33 cents per one thousand dollars, while neighboring like Dryden has 1.2043. For Groton, that would represent about a 3 cents increase per thousand from this year, though there is still no ambulance tax, unlike Ulysses and Dryden.
Shurtleff said Groton’s EMS team, much like other smaller municipalities throughout the county, is being stretched quite thin. Though they were able to hire another full-time employee to keep an ambulance operational at all times, Coit said they are often being called into other counties to assist with their overflow calls. This isn’t necessarily a dire problem just yet, because for now the situation remains mutually beneficial: when Groton is away on a call in Dryden or elsewhere, other counties are able to lend help over to Groton’s cases. But it’s simply another strain on Groton’s medical response systems.
That type of scenario is not uncommon. Shurtleff said other town’s services like Dryden are often called to locations in Cortland County, leaving their jurisdiction unattended when a call comes in so other places must pick up the slack. It’s a domino effect, he said.
“We’re all getting pulled into adjoining counties because of their personnel,” Shurtleff said. “I was covering the ambulance here a couple weeks ago for a Saturday and Sunday, and we got called to Cayuga County six times in two days.”
This article ran in the Nov. 8 issue of the Groton Independent.
Follow Matt Butler on Twitter @AllegedButler