Ordered to balance budget, County Ambulance director plans to reduce training and Dubois service

(Fremont County, Wyo.) – Following a budget hearing earlier this week with the Fremont County Commission, Ambulance Director Joseph Zillmer is trimming more than $500,000 from his budget. Zillmer said the commission directed him to balance the budget so that the department would be self-sustaining and not require any infusion from the county’s general fund. This required a $3.463-million budget to be reduced to less than $3 million.

In an interview on Friday, Zillmer said he is uncomfortable with some of the cuts he’s had to make because they “cause me great concern.”

Dubois service will be reduced to one full-time advanced life support first responder staffed 24/7. If a full ambulance is needed, it will be up to volunteers to step up, or an ambulance from Lander or Riverton will have to respond. The single employee will staff only a first responder vehicle, not an ambulance. That change reduces costs by an estimated $100,000.

He said he has spoken to Dubois Mayor Twila Blakeman about the challenges of Dubois service, but Blakeman has been unable to provide the department with support.

Zillmer has also cut all training equipment purchases and other new equipment purchases to the tune of $206,000. Zillmer said not having equipment with which his employees can train and he can observe the outcome could be detrimental. Along with those costs being removed also comes $145,000 reduction in depreciation accounting of that equipment.

He also eliminated one full time office staff position, as of last week, resulting in a reduction of $70,000.

Zillmer is adamant that there is no fluff, no hidden costs in his Fiscal Year 2015 budget, which is now about $1 million less than the year before. “I will open up line-item scrutiny to anyone who wants to view it,” he said, noting there’s no where else he can reduce costs.

While this budget makes his department no longer reliable on the county’s general fund, it does require a hefty amount of dipping into the department’s reserves. Commissioner Travis Becker in an interview said he made it clear to Zillmer that using general fund money and reserves is not sustainable.

Zillmer said much of the need for using the reserves is due to an almost doubling in county-required benefits to employees. Wages and salaries have been reduced from the current year, but benefits costs are raising from $425,251 to $807,820.

And Zillmer agrees that the situation isn’t sustainable. He is currently exploring the possibility of breaking the Ambulance Department off from the county and turning it into a nonprofit. Gaining a 501c3 status should not be difficult, he said, adding that it would still need county approval. If this is approved, the department would not be bound by Affordable Care Act and county healthcare benefit requirements, which reduce the department’s costs significantly. Additionally, it would open up more avenues for grant funding, and reduce the county’s legal liability.

If the nonprofit status was approved, the department would make contracts for services to the county and the various municipalities. Zillmer expects to pursue this possibility in the coming fiscal year.

A contract with Indian Health Services also needs to be reviewed, he said. IHS reimburses the ambulance department for roughly 40 percent of the services it provides.