Some help for Sleepy Hollow’s short-handed ambulance corps could be coming soon, village officials suggest. How much help and how soon it will arrive remain up in the air.
But after a night in which the Board of Trustees formally supported the beleaguered corps in a number of ways, including the approval of three new volunteers, Mayor Ken Wray said the village has found money to pay for at least some emergency medical technicians to supplement the volunteers’ depleted roster.
Ambulance Corps Lts. Shelley Robinson and Sung Pak, citing tough staffing challenges facing the volunteer unit, appealed at the board’s Nov. 13 meeting for paid EMTs, round the clock.
That’s considered unlikely. “We’re midyear on the [current] budget,” Village Administrator Anthony Giaccio said, “so anything we do now is unbudgeted.”
Establishing 24/7 coverage by paid EMTs, Giaccio estimates, would cost the village about $160,000 a year, none of which is in the 2012-13 budget, which runs through May. “We found money,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “We didn’t find all [the money needed for all] the ambulance corps is requesting.”
Still, Giaccio said of the trustees, “They’re seriously considering doing something.”
In the course of the public meeting, the board approved three new volunteers to the ambulance corps roster. The addition of Bethany Orifici and George Crowe of Sleepy Hollow and Jose Ojito of Ossining brings volunteer strength to about 20, though only about nine are fully certified EMTs, Giaccio said.
The board also accepted a $19,950 bid by Clean Air Co. Inc. (Fords, N.J.) to install an exhaust system in corps headquarters to safely vent vehicle fumes and authorized the hiring of a $600-a-month consultant to handle paperwork, including billing for calls.
The corps now realizes annual revenue from calls of some $120,000. And while that figure would likely rise with the increase in staffing, the administrator said, it would still fall short of covering all corps costs.
Adding another $60,000 for equipment and related expenses to the staffing fee, Giaccio said, pushes the ambulance corps cost to some $220,000.
The paid EMTs would not be village employees but temporary hires through an agency that specializes in that kind of staffing.
EMT hiring had been widely billed as a subject to be discussed in public at Tuesday’s board of trustees meeting. Instead, the entire business took place behind closed doors, apparently violating the state open-meetings law.
That decades-old statute requires local government to do the public’s business in public. It allows bodies like a village board to meet behind closed doors for only a handful of limited, tightly defined reasons, such as discussion of a specific employee’s medical or financial matters but not simply to consider “personnel” issues broadly. Such closed discussions, the state has long made clear, are permitted to protect personal privacy, not to shroud public policy.
Nevertheless, shortly after Tuesday’s meeting had disposed of some routine business, the mayor called for, and the board voted, to go into executive session to consider unspecified “personnel” issues. Sung Pak, an ambulance corps lieutenant on hand to discuss staffing, waited patiently in the public chamber for the board to return and take up the EMT matter.
But while the trustees were still beyond public view, either in the chamber or television audience, the mayor summoned Pak to join the closed-door session. Twelve minutes later, Wray and the trustees returned to the chamber; Pak did not.
After the regular meeting adjourned, in response to a reporter’s question, Wray insisted that Pak had been called to the back room only to be told that the EMT discussion would not take place that night as planned. Asked why that had to be done in secret rather than in the public session, Wray called it a “courtesy.”