MVAA will stop asking for town aid

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association (MVAA) has announced it will cease requesting Town Meeting Day donations from the 10 communities it serves in light of “improved business practices” and a steady increase in calls that have helped solidify the nonprofit organization’s operating budget.
Bill Edson, chief operations officer for the MVAA, said the move — which will cost the association a combined total of $32,000 in Town Meeting Day contributions — will be done on a trial basis for the 2013 budget year. Barring a jarring effect on the association’s bottom line, the shift will become permanent in 2014.
“We felt it was a kind of archaic practice that was built into the way the organization was run,” Edson said of the Town Meeting Day requests, made annually in the MVAA service towns of Middlebury, Salisbury, Ripton, Weybridge, New Haven, Cornwall, Bridport, Whiting, Shoreham and Orwell. “It was originally established before the organization was able to bill for what we do.”
The MVAA is, of course, now billing for services, and the $32,000 in town contributions covers around 3 percent of its total operating budget. The organization, which has earned statewide recognition, has 12 full-time employees, another eight who work per diem, and dozens of volunteers. The MVAA works out of a newly built, 11,860-square-foot facility just north of Porter Medical Center off South Street.
Edson said the organization had been considering dropping the Town Meeting Day requests for the past three years. Officials believe they are now in a position to follow through with that vision.
“The board of directors and executive leadership are pleased and excited to announce that this practice of asking towns for financial support can be eliminated,” reads a written statement from the MVAA confirming the budget change. “Improved business practices and a renewed obligation to social responsibility have allowed MVAA to take this bold step toward genuine fiscal independence and absolute commitment to community service.”
Patient volume, Edson said, is a big reason that the association is able to pull the plug on town assistance. He said the MVAA is responding to around 2,200 service calls per year. Those calls have been rising at an annual clip of around 8 percent during each of the past four years.
It also doesn’t hurt that the MVAA is based right next to Porter Hospital, providing easy access for transports. And Addison County’s rising elder population — boosted by the opening over the last few years of two Middlebury retirement communities — is also increasing the MVAA’s patient volume. Edson estimated that 70 percent of the organization’s client population is made up of seniors and citizens who are Medicare-eligible.
But MVAA officials were quick to acknowledge that other rescue organizations in the state are not as well-positioned to eschew town assistance.
“We are not within the normal model of an ambulance service,” Edson said.
Indeed, the Vergennes Area Rescue Squad (VARS) “would not be able to function” without the $38,000 in funds it receives from the seven towns in which it provides service, according to Chuck Welch, operations supervisor for the organization.
VARS currently has contracts charging a $5-per-capita fee (up $1 from last year) from the towns it serves. Those include Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Waltham, Addison and parts of New Haven and Monkton. The organization, which has an annual budget of $383,000, also bills for services. Currently, VARS has two full-time staff, two per diem and 44 volunteers, according to Welch.
At this point, VARS officials believe it will be necessary for the squad to increase funding requests from its service towns, as opposed to phasing them out.
“Right now, the town contracts generate 10 percent of our total budget, but need to be at 20 percent,” Welch said. VARS leadership has begun to discuss how to phase in the needed increase in town contracts, according to Welch.
Bristol Rescue Squad is also very reliant on Town Meeting Day contributions to stabilize its annual budget of around $260,000, according to organization President Ron Sunderland. The contributions from Bristol Rescue Squad member-towns Bristol, Monkton, New Haven, Starksboro and Lincoln add up to around $28,000. The squad has one paid staff member; the rest are volunteers.
“It does help out a great deal,” Sunderland said of the financial assistance from the towns. “I don’t know that we are going to stop doing it in the future.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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