Coastal Delaware EMS Fee To Jump

FENWICK ISLAND – Taxpayers will be presented with an increase in ambulance service charges in the upcoming fiscal year as the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company is faced with making enhancements to keep up with call volume.
Earlier this month, Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company (BBVFC) President Steve Lett, EMS Chief Doug Scott, Fire Chief Brian Martin and Treasurer Jack Martin came before the Fenwick Island Town Council to request an increase in the annual Emergency Medical Service (EMS) service fee.
The BBVFC EMS Division is a collaboration between the fire company and property owners within the towns of Bethany Beach, South Bethany, Fenwick Island and the Sea Colony Recreation Association. The financial commitment of these sponsors and others allowed for service to begin operation on Dec. 31, 2008.
At that time of the EMS division’s inception, the annual fee started out at $33. Every year since then it has increased reaching $44 last year. In the upcoming fiscal year that starts on Jan. 1, BBVFC is requesting the fee be increased to $53 mainly due to the need for a third ambulance.
The taxpayer’s annual EMS fee results in the BBVFC fiscal year budget of about $800,000 that is divided into two ways — an annual operating budget and a long-term reserve to save for future ambulances.
The two ambulances currently in service have been with the company since its EMS division’s beginning in 2008 and both have almost 80,000 miles.
“Our ambulance service has been in existence for the past five years, and our number of calls has increased from around 850 to 1,100, and so as the ambulance service has grown we need to be able to provide a higher level of service, which has been a challenge over the years,” Lett said.
Within the corporate limits of Fenwick Island alone, there were 110 calls in the past year, 46 calls in the unincorporated area of Fenwick and 53 calls between Fenwick and South Bethany.
“We strive for the best service possible when it comes to EMS and to be able to do that we are putting a third ambulance in service,” Lett said. “We operate with two ambulances right now, so the increase is really due to the third ambulance, increased in call volume, and being able to keep up with the latest technology, stay ahead, and make sure we provide the highest level of EMS service possible within our district.”
Scott furthered, in 2008 during discussions to start up BBVFC EMS division nobody anticipated for the call volume to increase to where it is today.
“We only have two ambulances and in the summer time it becomes very problematic if one of those is out of service,” he said. “We can’t be out of an ambulance in the summer when we are out on multiple calls all the time, so we were always forced to borrow one.”
In times of need, BBVFC borrows an ambulance from the neighboring towns of Millville or Roxana. However, during the summer, those fire departments are also strapped for ambulances.
“Not to be able to take care of ourselves by having an ambulance for help at all the time, we were able to come up with a plan to buy a third ambulance. That way when we do have a problem especially in the summer months we can always have two,” Scott said. “For service consistency and reliability, we feel it is important to have that.”
Mayor Audrey Serio has been working with BBVFC since day one and said it has been a learning experience especially in figuring out costs.
“These small increases over the years that we have seen have been a learning experience,” she said. “The first year we started too low, and in the second year we ended up giving money back because we all didn’t know what we were doing.”
Councilman Todd Smallwood pointed out BBVFCs district is from the Maryland State Line to the Indian River Bridge in Delaware and west to the Assawoman Canal.
“That makes your business model even tougher because your district is not going to get any larger, so the only thing they can do is raise rates for the consumer or cut costs,” Smallwood said. “Next year if we are looking at $65 then we have a problem. At some point down the road, there has to be a cap.”
Councilman William Weistling supports BBVFC but felt there has to be a different way instead of a substantial jump in the fee.
“Every year we go through this where we push this hoping in the future more people will come on board with funding,” he said. “To go from $33 to $53, especially with this big jump this year, I wouldn’t mind giving a little bit more money but there has to be some kind of cost cutting in there just like we have cut our costs. I know it doesn’t seem like that large of an amount of money but every year it keeps going up.”
Councilman Gardner Bunting reminded the council the BBVFC EMS fee covers every member in the household as well as guests and renters.
“That is a deal,” he said.
The council voted 6-1 with Weistling opposed to support the increase in the annual EMS fee for Fenwick Island taxpayers.