on July 7, 2016 by test_editor in Archive_2016, July, Print Articles, WEB-EXTRA content, Comments Off on July 7, 2016: The 911 on Paramedic Services; City of Ottawa Doing Less with Less.

July 7, 2016: The 911 on Paramedic Services; City of Ottawa Doing Less with Less.

July 7, 2016: The 911 on Paramedic Services;
City of Ottawa Doing Less with Less.

By Diane Holmes.

One of the most popular city services is Paramedics. This is understandable as it is literally all about life and death and the small margin of error between the two. Why has the City of Ottawa come to rely on our rural county neighbours to answer an increasing number of calls to 911?

Marc Chretien, the Director of Emergency Services in Prescott-Russell stated that “picking up the slack for Ottawa is hurting” his operation.

Property tax-payers in Ottawa may be surprised to learn how this vital service has been impacted by our City Hall’s pursuit of a low property tax increase in the past 6 years.

The Ottawa Citizen reported on February 23, 2016 that “there has been a 23 per cent increase in outside paramedic responses over the last five years to calls within the city limits”. This means that the counties of Prescott- Russell, Lanark and Renfrew have been responding to calls, many life threating, inside our city. There is a Provincial requirement that this mutual aid happen but it had grown to a very lopsided level.

For example Prescott- Russell responded to 523 calls from Ottawa in 2015, and Ottawa responded to only 140 in Prescott-Russell.

Yes, City Council plugged this gap in February 2016 by adding 12 new paramedics and 4 new ambulances. The question is, why this was ignored for many years. How did the low property increase tax policy create this problem?

Let’s look back at the budget issues for Paramedic Service for the past 5 years (M=million $)

Year Budget Actual Variance
2011 69.6 M 71.9 M ( -2.3 M )
2012 73.3 M 78.6 M ( -5.3 M )
2013 78.5 M 79.0 M ( -0.5 M )
2014 80,3 M 82.5 M ( -2.2 M )
2015 82.5 M 86.0 M ( -3.5 M )

Clearly this service has exceeded its budget every year. Staff explain this by citing factors like overtime to maintain response times, unanticipated cost of arbitration settlements and increased number of requests for service.

In fact staff report a 7.2 % increase in requests in 2014 alone. The real truth is that Paramedic Service annual budget increases are artificially low to support the low tax increase policy of the City.

The population of our city continues to grow. In the last census period (2006-2011) it rose by 9%. Yet since 2011 the staff complement of the Paramedic Service has been flat-lined.

Let’s go back to the February 2016 action by City Council. They funded the increase in paramedic staff in 2016 from the ‘Provision for Unforeseen’ account. This fund is set aside for totally unforeseen events. It is very clear that the Paramedic under-funding was absolutely predicable as the trends were evident for 5 years or more. Where will they find the money in 2017 for these 12 new paramedics?

The quest to maintain a low property tax increase has trumped prudent budgeting and in turn is denying an essential City service the resources it requires.

It was only when City Council was faced with a political problem that it acknowledged something had to happen. They drained a reserve fund to accomplish this when it should have been incorporated in the annual budget in the first place. This is not just poor fiscal management but poor political representation.

Paramedic sits on tailgate of ambulance prepared to answer any need at late night public events.

On Call – All Hours.

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