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NY city may cut ambulance service because 'it's not a moneymaker'

The paid service became part of the firefighter union's contract and doesn't pull in enough revenue to cover itself, officials say

By Joe Olenick
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

LOCKPORT, N.Y. — The City of Lockport may take a look at eliminating its ambulance service.

During a Wednesday work session meeting, the Common Council held a brief discussion about eliminating the service after 2nd Ward Alderman Ronald A. Franco asked if the service was a source of revenue for the city.

“It was intended to be a moneymaker and it became part of their (the firefighter union’s) contract,” said Common Council President Joseph C. Kibler.

Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said Lockport was the only municipality in Niagara or Erie counties that ran its own ambulance service. The service does bring in revenue, but it does not cover the cost of the service, the mayor said.

“Then why do it?” Franco asked.

Kibler said the matter would be discussed Tuesday, when the Common Council meets with the city Fire Board.

McCaffrey said according to Fire Chief Thomas J. Passuite, representatives from other municipalities — such as Niagara Falls and Buffalo — have inquired to how Lockport can provide the ambulance service. None of them have implemented the service after speaking with Passuite, McCaffrey said. 

City Attorney John J. Ottaviano said if the city provides a service, it should be done right or not at all. The Common Council should consider looking at everything, he said.

“I think that will be the discussion next week,” McCaffrey said. “Either we should be all in or not.”

Kevin Pratt, the Lockport Professional Firefighters Association union president, said the ambulance service handled about 3,600 calls in 2013. About 85 percent of those calls were emergency medical services.

“It’d be a huge cut in service,” Pratt said. “I don’t know if they have a plan on how to protect the citizens of the city.”

Cutting the service could also lead to more legal issues, Pratt said. Already the city and the LPFA are in court fights over fire chief eligibility, responsibility for the operation of the fire station doors and a reduction in minimum staffing levels and cutting one of the city’s two ambulances. A temporary restraining order kept the city from implementing the staffing and ambulance reductions.

During Wednesday’s regular meeting, retired firefighter Mark Devine called the drop in minimum staffing a mistake. But he also said the city and union need to talk.

“This bickering has to stop,” Devine said. “I believe there is a fair and equitable solution... you have to get back to the table.”

Prior to the discussion about cutting a service from the budget, Common Council members talked about bringing something back.

A resolution calling for a May 21 public hearing concerning the restoration of the superintendent of streets position was put on hold Wednesday by the Common Council.

The job duties for streets superintendent were rolled into the engineering and public works director about three years ago when the superintendent job was cut from the city budget. The current director, Norman D. Allen will be leaving May 24 for a new position as director of infrastructure operations for the Niagara Falls Water Board.

When Allen submitted his resignation last month, McCaffrey said she wanted to head in a different direction by having a streets superintendent and possibly privatizing the engineering department. When it was in the city budget, the streets superintendent handled parks and refuse oversight as well.

The position’s job description should be discussed by the personnel committee and the city Civil Service Commission, said 5th Ward Alderman Kenneth M. Genewick. There’s a chance the position residents speak about on May 21 may not be the same position the Council approves, Genewick said.

In other business, the Common Council:

• Called for a public hearing on a special use permit request made by Jordan Bork, who hopes to open an electronic cigarette store, Elite Vapors, at 343 Walnut St.

The hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 21 in the Common Council chambers at City Hall.

Kibler said the request was denied by the city Planning Board in a 6-1 vote on Monday. But, the permit could be granted if the Council voted unanimously to approve the request.

Bork appeared before the Council at a work session meeting last week. Elite Vapors would operate inside the same building that houses Hairport Beauty Salon and is located in a B-4 zone, a business district that does not allow retail.

The Council won’t take action that night, but members believed it was important to get public input, Genewick said.

• Approved the hiring of Jillian M. Bunk as city grants administrator at a rate of $25 per hour, 15 hours per week. The position was budgeted by the city for 2014, McCaffrey said.

Bunk also works as a part-time bookkeeper for the Greater Lockport Development Corp.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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