Albion Village Board tries to keep COVA afloat with contract for ambulance services

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 September 2022 at 8:21 am

Village sets public hearing for Oct. 26; COVA officials say they are running out of money

Photo by Tom Rivers: COVA treasurer Anna Tower, right, and Brandi Fisher, COVA’s chief financial officer and an EMT, speak at Wednesday’s Village Board meeting about the financial challenges facing the agency.

ALBION – The Albion Village Board wants to direct some of its federal ARPA money to keep COVA afloat as a local ambulance provider.

The village has $172,000 left in in its allotment for federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and village department heads have all submitted proposals for spending that money.

But the board is putting off those department heads proposals while COVA is struggling and near closing.

COVA said it has been operating a deficit in recent years – $161,000 in 2019 and $172,000 in 2020. It has used up its reserves and accumulated $70,000 in unpaid bills, while struggling to make payroll.

Trustee Chris Barry suggested the village use $16,000 a month for COVA from the ARPA funds to help the ambulance provider while a longer-term funding arrangement can be worked out. COVA has suggested a taxing district or ambulance service contracts with the towns of Albion, Barre, Gaines and Carlton, COVA’s direct service area.

The village couldn’t just approve the $16,000 on Wednesday, Village Attorney John Gavenda advised. The board needs to give notice of a public hearing about the issue so residents can provide input about the new ambulance contract that would give at least one ambulance priority for village residents. The hearing was set for 6 p.m. on Oct. 26 at the Village Office.

The Village Board has stayed out of the issue because village residents are either in the towns of Albion and Gaines and the Village Board said the village residents would be “double taxed” if the village paid money to COVA and then village residents paid again through the towns.

But an agreement hasn’t been reached with the towns, and COVA said it is nearing closure. It no longer has overnight staffing.

Village Trustee Joyce Riley said she was concerned about the village funding being used without a solid plan to keep COVA going strong long into the future.

“The ARPA money isn’t a permanent solution,” she said. “It’s a temporary fix.”

COVA leaders spoke at the Village Board meeting. They said COVA has seen a rise in patients on Medicaid or Medicare and those reimbursement rates are far below COVA’s costs. The agency has seen its expenses rise with the costs of fuel, medications and equipment.

Brandi Fisher, COVA’s chief financial officer, said COVA has tried for four years to make the local government leaders aware of the fiscal challenges of the agency. COVA has pushed for a contract or taxing district with the central Orleans towns. If those four towns contributed $200,000 a year in a contract that would keep COVA viable, Fisher said.

Laurie Schwab, COVA’s chief operations officer, said COVA hasn’t received any of the federal Covid relief money that went to local governments even though COVA medics and staff were on the front lines of the Covid pandemic, going inside houses and helping people who were sick.

“We were your response,” Schwab said. “We saved lives.”

COVA leaders thanked the Village Board for working towards a contract, but they said they were worried they were running out of time.