Taxes will rise an average of $65 next year in the Town of Saugerties after Town officials unanimously approved a 2022 budget that features a 4.6 percent spending increase going mainly to fund a third-fully staffed ambulance for Diaz Memorial Ambulance, which has seen calls skyrocket in recent years.
Town Supervisor Fred Costello said Town officials and department heads were working as late as the afternoon of Wednesday’s town board meeting on November 17 when the budget was approved, just days before it was due to Ulster County.
“We made an aggressive effort to pare down things as much as possible,” Costello said. He said the $65 average increase represents a property assessed at the Town average assessment of $238,500.
Much of the increase will go to Diaz Ambulance to add a third-fully staffed ambulance with Paramedics and EMTs. The extra $525,000 contribution from the Town will allow the not-for-profit ambulance service that provides EMS services to the Town and Village of Saugerties to increase starting hourly wages for staff from $17.50 closer to $21-$22 more in line with other area EMS providers.
Costello said they already have a third ambulance, which is ready to go into service immediately. The Town will draw up a new contract with Diaz superseding the current contract that was put into place in 2017.
The Supervisor said the Town was able to use $500,000 in cap-room from previous years when they did not override the state’s two-percent tax cap, but by the time they added in the added funding for Diaz and other town expenses, there was no choice but to override the tax cap.
Several members of the public questioned the need for the third ambulance and decried the tax-cap override, which was unanimously approved by the board,
Costello said there was no choice but to add the third crew, as Diaz has seen calls skyrocket in recent years. In those cases, volunteer firefighters respond to the call, but by law can’t offer more than very basic treatment and must wait for a mutual-aid ambulance from Woodstock, Mobile-Life Support Services, a private ambulance company in the Town of Ulster or sometimes as far away as Esopus and even Hyde Park.
He said some of the volunteer firefighters are also EMTs but can’t use that training when they respond to the fire department.
In response to one member of the public questioning the need for an ambulance in a Town where the population is declining, Costello said the figure online undercuts the latest population estimate for the Town of just over 19,000. “We’re the largest town in Ulster County population-wise and second in the county only to the City of Kingston and that’s not by much,” he said.
He compared Saugerties with Kingston, which has a paid fire department that can answer EMS calls. “That’s not available here,” Costello said.