The City of Fitchburg could be considering a change in its joint medical service with Verona now that an $18,600 study has been brought back to its Common Council.
Since 1977, Fitch-Rona EMS has been a combined district of the cities of Fitchburg and Verona and the Town of Verona. Each municipality has three voting members, and the commission has some autonomy, but budgetary and other major decisions need the approval of each municipality.
Fitchburg, with the highest population and use of the service by far, has expressed some concerns about the efficiency of its operation, much like the City of Verona did a decade ago about fire service. In that case, the city eventually withdrew from the joint fire district it had at one point shared with the towns of Verona and Springdale and created its own department, which it now contracts out to the Town of Verona.
That’s one of the six options considered by the report, produced by GWB Professional Services and Elsass Executive Enterprises and dated August 2018. That option, listed as C, also appears to have the most potential benefits, according to a chart in the report, with “high” sustainability of staff and services, “high” improvement in incident and administrative coordination and “moderate” potential for cost savings and increased revenues.
Contracting for service from Fitchburg, however, is “not acceptable,” Verona Mayor Luke Diaz told the Press in an email Monday. Diaz is a former member of the Fitch-Rona EMS Commission.
“EMS is too critical of a service to outsource without Verona having direct input into the governing body,” he wrote. “I get that Fitchburg is looking at ways to reduce cost and get more control, but ultimately I have to do what’s best for Verona residents.”
A discussion on the study was set on Fitchburg’s Common Council meeting Tuesday, Aug. 14. Diaz said Verona’s council will discuss it Aug. 27.
Fitchburg Mayor Jason Gonzalez said Tuesday morning he was “still evaluating” what’s in the report and had not read the entire study “thoroughly” yet, as he expected the presentation Tuesday to help focus on the highlights.
He added that he planned to “open the floor” to the public and any interested department members at Tuesday night’s meeting after the presentation to ask questions of the consultant.
Fitchburg commissioned the study Nov. 14, authorizing up to $30,000, after Ald. Julia Arata-Fratta (Dist. 2) proposed looking into combining its fire and EMS departments in a structure called fire-based EMS, which cross-trains firefighters. That idea came with strong opposition in a memo from the longtime outgoing EMS chief, Brian Myrland, who said there is “no evidence of concern in either department,” but Fitchburg fire chief Joe Pulvermacher supported looking for ways to “identify efficiencies.”
The study considered four possible ways to make that happen – forming its own fire/ems department (Option B), assuming all EMS responsibilities and contracting out (Option C), forming separate fire and EMS departments from the city and town of Verona (Option D); and consolidating fire and EMS departments with Verona (Option E). Each showed “moderate” cost savings, “low” reductions in response times and “high” or “moderate-high” improvements in coordination; the main differences were in increased revenues and sustainability of staff and services over 10-25 years.
Options B, D and E all showed “moderate” sustainability of staff and services. Options C and E showed “moderate” potential for increased revenues, while D was “low” and B was “low-moderate.”
The study also considered specific issues that would affect the feasibility of each, including political factors and the existing agreement, which requires a one-year advance notice of withdrawal, which would then happen at the end of that year. Option A, keeping the status quo, would also involve Fitchburg proposing “favorable amendments” to that agreement, including changing the commission structure to give more power to the cities.
The sixth option, expanding Fitchburg’s advanced life support services, showed little to no improvement in all but one category, increased revenues.
Diaz said he would “be open to looking” at options on the list other than C “as long as Verona has a say in our EMS coverage, they result in high quality care at a reasonable price, and in the event of further consolidation, they don’t result in unfair job losses.”
Among the reasons cited for the study are the coming third ambulance for Fitch-Rona EMS, which was originally planned for 2018 but had to be pushed back to 2019 because of Fitchburg’s budget and transitional state of the fire stations. That operating expense – at least $300,000 in the first year – would be added to an already-tight budget the Fitchburg council has had difficulty with in recent years.
Fitchburg is also in the midst of building new facilities for its fire department to better serve a large urban and rural area that will expand significantly by 2022, when the Town of Madison is added to its territory.