City cuts rescue funds

By Linda Seida, Staff Writer
   LAMBERTVILLE — The city is going to cut the amount of funding it gives to the Lambertville-New Hope Ambulance and Rescue Squad.
   The squad president says the organization wasn’t notified before the approximately $6,500 cut was made, and he hopes the city will reverse the decision and restore full funding.
   President Pat Pittore said he presented an appeal to the City Council at its meeting May 19 “to make sure they understand what it does to us. Any cuts send a wrong message to us and to the community. The service needs to be maintained, and the city has a responsibility to help maintain it.”
   The squad provides services 24 hours a day, every day of the year, without charge to the people it helps. It has a paid staff covering the day shift, and has just put out a call for volunteers to help cover the night shift from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. It only has about 25 volunteers right now.
   Mayor David Del Vecchio praised the squad, as well as Mr. Pittore’s 45 years of service to the organization, but said a tough budget year forced the decision.
   ”It’s really a difficult time, and people should just be aware it’s not necessarily a recognition of the value of services, but a recognition of the financial limits of the times that we live in,” he said.
   The city is facing a net loss of $254,000 in state aid, despite the announcement last week it would receive $197,000.
   To handle the shortfall, the city is considering employee layoffs, has increased parking meter hours and plans to sell a parking lot at auction. Also, the city canceled its annual Sparkle Week, a citywide cleanup of heavy items such as furniture.
   The city normally pays for the squad’s vehicle insurance and workers’ compensation premiums. This year, the city has proposed to continue paying workers’ compensation, but will cut the funds for vehicle insurance by more than half.
   The city wants to give the squad $5,500 this year to cover part of the approximately $12,000 vehicle insurance bill, according to city Clerk Lori Buckelew.
   The squad would have to make up the loss with fundraisers or other, still-to-be determined methods.
   The total the city is designating for squad expenses is about $27,000.
   Mayor Del Vecchio offered to work with the squad to come up with other means to raise funds as well as to formulate a business plan for the squad.
   The council did not rescind the decision to cut funding. It was unclear whether the council intends to revisit the issue at a later date.
   Councilman Ronald Pittore recused himself from the discussion and left the dais to avoid the appearance of impropriety. He and Pat Pittore are brothers.
   According to figures provided by the squad, its volunteers responded to 1,427 calls in 2007; almost 42 percent, or 598 calls, were in Lambertville.
   In 2006, the squad responded to 1,352 calls; about 45 percent, or 616 calls, were in Lambertville.
   Of the 598 Lambertville calls the squad responded to last year, 375 were medical emergencies; 105 were fire calls; 44 were for personal accidents; 33 were for vehicle accidents; 31 were rescues, hazardous materials calls or other calls; and 10 were transports.
   Its operating budget comes from public contributions, fundraising events and contributions from the municipal governments of the communities it serves. The squad’s 2008 operating budget is $426,000.
   New Hope will contribute $14,322 to the squad this year, the same as in the past two years, according to Manager John Burke.
   The squad also will receive an additional $2,000 more this year from the borough. That amount represents 50 percent of the fees set by the council and charged by the mayor for his officiating at wedding ceremonies, Mr. Burke said.
   The recipients of wedding fees have been designated by ordinance, split between the New Hope Eagle Fire Company and the squad, 75 percent and 25 percent respectively. Prior to that, the mayor distributed the funds to designated nonprofit organizations.