Chesterton Tribune

Town Council talks 2013 budget and municipal ambulance service at special meeting

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By KEVIN NEVERS

The Indiana Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) cut a total of $847,960 from the Town of Chesterton’s 2012 budget.

Part of the hewing and hacking was routine cuts which DLGF always makes to a municipality’s annual budget.

But a large part of at downsizing—enough to bring this year’s budget below the 2011 budget—was the result of a penalty assessed the town because it failed to meet a publication deadline last year. Under Indiana Code, municipalities are required to publish their advertised budgets—twice—by Sept. 10 of every year. Last year, the town published the first time on Sept. 9 and the second on Sept. 16.

Now, Clerk-Treasurer Gayle Polakowski is announcing that the full $847,960 cut from the 2012 budget should be restored to the 2013 budget.

Which is a good thing.

But DLGF is also recommending that municipalities planning their 2013 budgets increase their total levy by no more than 2.8 percent, which would give the town only $179,128 in additional property-tax revenues next year.

Which the Town Council thinks is a bad thing.

So, at a special meeting Monday night, members unanimously agreed to go for broke and—instead of requesting a 2.8-percent increase in this year’s total levy—ask DLGF for a 3.2-percent increase. If DLGF allows the request, it would mean total additional property-tax revenues of $204,718.

Ambulance Service

In other business, members agreed to ask contracted financial consultant London Witte Group to review a proposal by the Chesterton Fire Department to establish its own ambulance service, in what Fire Chief Mike Orlich believes would, sooner rather than later, provide the town with a new revenue stream.

In July 2011, the CFD presented to the council the findings of a year-long study which indicated that—depending on the prices charged to patients by the CFD for the service and on the level of Medicaid and insurance reimbursement—a municipal ambulance service could pay for itself in a number of years, with potential surplus revenues on the low end of $50,000 and on the high end of $140,000.

The CFD has continued to study the matter in the year since that presentation and is now estimating that, within six months of establishing the service, the CFD could begin to repay a $235,000 seed-money loan from the town.

Those funds would be needed to hire four full-time personnel and a part-time billing clerk. Meanwhile, Orlich said, the CFD is researching other funding sources for the estimated $200,000 needed to purchase two ambulances.

Members liked what they heard but were cautious as well. Member Sharon Darnell, D-4th, emphasized the need for a formal repayment plan to be in place, while Member Emerson DeLaney, R-5th, added that, should an ambulance service prove not to be a positive revenue source, the council would reserve the right to cancel it and terminate those new personnel hired to staff it.

“If we do this, we are going to catch grief from certain parties,” DeLaney said. “But we’re going to get support too.”

“It’s easy to say ‘Don’t do it,’” Orlich said for his part. “But we know it’s for the best.” Orlich added that, unlike other municipalities in Porter County, the Town of Chesterton will have a choice of easy-access medical facilities: the new Porter hospital in Liberty Township and the Franciscan Alliance ER department on Indian Boundary Road. “We have that luxury,” he said. “Turn-around time will be next to nothing.”

At the moment, the CFD is looking at April 1, 2013, as the start-up date, should the council agree to establish the ambulance service.

Nothing will be done, however, until the London Witte Group crunches the numbers and assesses the plan’s feasibility.

 

Posted 8/15/2012