Budget cuts or more revenue? Or both? The choice isn’t as simple as that, but Cambria’s health district trustees spent part of their January meeting talking about various combinations of those options.
Afterward, they voted 5-0 to hire a consultant, at a cost not to exceed $4,000, to help them navigate the process. They also decided unanimously to set a meeting for sometime in February to receive public input on the issue.
“We are having to pull money out of savings, if you will, to fund the district,” trustee Bob Putney said. “I’m worried about us being in business at the end of the year if we don’t make some painful cuts.”
He added that “by September or October of this year, maybe even sooner, we might not be able to make payroll.”
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The district will work with Steve Athey, a consultant with First Watch, a software company that tracks emergency activities nationwide.
In an email interview Thursday, District Administrator Bob Sayers said Athey “will be evaluating our organization to determine the most effective use of our resources to provide the best possible emergency medical services for the residents of our district. Our organization is committed to providing the best emergency medical services that our district residents need, and we are studying the best way to provide those services within our financial means.”
Financial challenges that have left some worried about the potential for cuts in ambulance service. Concerns raised at November’s meeting that one of the district’s two ambulances might be cut back to 12 hours a day were repeated by members of the audience Wednesday, Jan. 17.
“Our town is so far away, and it’s such an elderly community,” local businessman Buddy Campo said. “If you get rid of an ambulance, it’s only natural that there’s going to be consequences. This is the last thing that should be cut out. … There’s so much money being wasted in this town, it’s just an absolute joke.”
I’m worried about us being in business at the end of the year if we don’t make some painful cuts.
Bob Putney, CCHD trustee
Two members of Service Employees International Union Local 620 urged the district to raise more money rather than making cuts.
“The district does not have a spending problem, but it does have a revenue problem,” said SEIU field representative Darryl Scheck. “Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic would not have stopped it from sinking.”
Fellow SEIU member Susan Thomas said emergency medical technicians are making minimum wage while Cambria charges a lower sales tax than the county average.
But Putney pointed out that the district has no control over sales taxes.
Sayers told the board the district was able to save about $23,000 in December “through some very hard work by many of our employees covering additional shifts to hold our over head and overtime expenses down.” Operations Director Jason Melendy covered a large number of ambulance shifts during the month, he said.
Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic would not have stopped it from sinking.
Darryl Scheck, SEIU Local 620
Board Vice President Barbara Bronson Gray said sustaining those savings could be the answer. “Five months times 23,000 (dollars) will save this district,” she said. “If we could do $23,000 in one month, we should not be turning to the taxpayers to save us.”
Board Secretary Shirley Bianchi said the district probably couldn’t put a tax increase on the ballot before November, “and then there is absolutely no guarantee it’s going to pass.”
Also Wednesday, the board voted 5-0 to pursue a $450,000 project to renovate the ambulance station, which was damaged in a mudslide a year ago.
Vanir Construction Management submitted the plan to the board this week.
Under the proposal, the district would combine Suite A at the Main Street site with a portion of Suite B. The plan would enable the district to house both ambulance crews together, but it would also displace the Community Health Centers clinic, which currently occupies Suite B.
The proposed solution would move the clinic to the now-vacant Suite C, which would be renovated first to avoid any interruption in CHC service.
Trustees chose this option over a “reduced scope” option, which would have cost $91,000 less but would have separated the two ambulance crews by about 50 or 60 feet of outdoor walkway.
“It’s dark back there (at night), they’d be exposed to the elements, and there’s a safety factor,” Putney said in explaining his preference for the more expensive option presented by Vanir.
Addressing complaints of termite problems at the CHC clinic, the board voted 5-0 to provisionally accept a $4,230 bid from Key Termite and Pest Control.
“We have had complaints that the termites actually, during the rainy time, were falling from the ceiling in the exam room,” Sayers said.
The board voted unanimously to approve a contract with AMR of Monterey County that calls for CCHD to receive $1,500 per ambulance response north of the county line. The previous rate of pay had been $1,000 per response.