OCEAN CITY — Resort officials last week agreed to replace dozens of aging heart monitors and Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) for the Ocean City Fire Department, but could not immediately figure out how to pay for the new lifesaving equipment.
Ocean City Fire Department officials came before the Mayor and Council seeking funding assistance for the purchase of 10 new cardiac monitors and 60 new AEDs for its EMTs and ambulances. The department’s current cardiac monitors and AEDs range in age from seven to 10 years old and lack the latest technology in patient care reporting, data collection and analysis. In addition, some of the current monitors and AEDs are not in synch with other equipment used by the department, often creating gaps in the shared information for patients.
The purchase of the cardiac monitors and AEDs were accounted for in the fire department’s fiscal year budget and were put out to bid, the lowest of which came in at over $450,000. The low bid came in well over the budgeted amount, largely because the department believed it could work out a capital lease plan instead of an outright purchase, but the manufacturers required a purchase only.
As a result, the purchase of the cardiac monitors and AEDs came in considerably higher than what was budgeted for to the tune of around $350,000. All agreed the monitors and AEDs were critical. They are used as many as 1,500 times a year and for as many as 10,000 procedures. However, there was some considerable discussion on how to pay for them.
Earlier in last week’s work session, Finance Administrator Martha Bennett reported the town’s anticipated contributions to the employee pension and retirement health plans came in at nearly $500,000 less than what was budgeted for, resulting in a surplus in those funds. Councilman Wayne Hartman questioned whether some of that surplus could be dedicated to the purchase of the new monitors and AEDs for the fire department.
“We just learned there is a $500,000 surplus in the pension fund,” he said. “Can we reallocate some of that to pay for this?”
However, Councilman Tony Deluca said the pension fund windfall might be short-lived.
“Haven’t we had years where we’ve had a deficit in the pension fund?” he said. “I’d be a little cautious to use that.”
Councilmember Mary Knight agreed and suggested attempting another creative funding method for the fire department equipment.
“I would rather leave that pension balance alone,” she said. “I think we need to figure this out another way.”
The discussion turned to diverting money from the town’s fund balance to pay for the cardiac monitors and AEDs. However, there was also a reluctance to tap into the “rainy day” fund to pay for the overage on the fire department equipment. Budget Director Jenny Knapp pointed out a large portion of the fund balance was supported by savings from the public safety departments.
Councilman Dennis Dare said the fund balance is intended as a safety net of sorts.
“I’m not real happy with any future withdraws from the fund balance,” he said. “We’re still seven months out from budget time. We were fortunate with that last storm and next time we might not be so lucky. That’s what the fund balance is for.”
After considerable debate, the council agreed to find a way to fund the 10 cardiac monitors and 30, or half of the requested, AEDs in the current fiscal year, with the other 30 AEDs paid for in fiscal year 2017. Knapp said she would make the appropriate changes in her next budget amendment.