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Ambulance fees for Polish Town Fair have organizers upset

Members of the Polish Town Civic Association are unhappy about the prospect of paying more than $2,000 to have ambulances on call during the upcoming Polish Town Fair and Street Festival, slated for Aug. 17 and 18.

“That’s a lot of money for us, because we’re a nonprofit and we don’t have a lot of money,” said civic association president and fair organizer Kay Davis.

Ms. Davis said the association had offered to do a fundraiser with the ambulance district, and would give all the proceeds to the ambulance, but has not heard back on that offer.

But Al Gehres, manager of the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance, said in an interview last week that the fees are being required for all special events in the town, not just the Polish Town Fair.

Starting this year, the ambulance district is charging nonprofit groups holding special events $150 per hour. Profit-making organizations are charged $250 per hour. That money will go into the donation account, and not the tax district.

“This came about because there were people who had good intentions and didn’t follow through on them,” Mr. Gehres said. “They were making offers, saying they would donate X amount of dollars to the ambulance to cover their events, and then, after the event, that did not occur.”

He didn’t specify who reneged on promises.

For the Polish Fair, the $150 hourly charge amounts to $2,400 for the two-day event, Ms. Davis said.

She said the civic association has donated equipment to the ambulance district in the past.

“We’ve always given a donation,” she said. The ambulance, she said, wanted a cash donation rather than defibrillators.

For several years, the Polish Fair had used stand-by ambulances from Stony Brook University Hospital,Ms. Davis said, for which they were not charged. The civic association, in return, made a donation to them, she said.

The association had asked the Flanders Northampton Volunteer Ambulance if they would stand by during the fair but, according to Mr. Gehres, they lack a certificate allowing them to be on call in Riverhead.

The FNVA can respond to mutual aid calls in Riverhead Town, but that’s different, because Riverhead would be requesting their help in those instances, Mr. Gehres said.

The ambulance issue was discussed briefly at last Thursday’s Riverhead Town Board work session.

“I was a little bothered by that because they pay taxes on [their property],” Riverhead Councilman Jim Wooten said of the ambulance charge during that meeting.

Mr. Wooten questioned if the ambulance can properly charge the fee, since the Polish Town Civic Association already pays into the ambulance district tax.

“It’s never been done before,” Mr. Wooten said.

Councilman Tim Hubbard said Alive on 25 also received a bill for ambulance services. They plan to have four events in the summer.

“I was taken aback a little,” Mr. Hubbard said.

Ms. Davis said that in addition to the fair, Polish Town Civic Association donated the use of its pavilion for the summer concert series last year and has raised money for Riverhead cheerleaders’ numerous charitable ventures.

“We generate so much in business for the town,” she said, adding that if the fair is rained out, they make no money, since it is their major fundraiser.

The civic association also pays about $20,000 in property taxes on its two properties in Polish Town, she said. Ms. Davis was unsure why the nonprofit association has to pay property taxes.

Keith Lewin, president of the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance board of directors, said he’s been with the ambulance corps for 40 years. In the past, he said, “there were, for the time, sizable donations to the ambulance, which helped us out. The last 10 years, donations have been going down and, after the recession ended, they didn’t come back up.”

Ms. Davis also questioned what the ambulance is doing with the money it receives though third-party insurance payments on auto accidents in the town. Mr. Lewin said more than $300,000 has been raised through those payments, but the town hasn’t given any of that money to the ambulance.

The ambulance corps answers close to 4,000 calls per year, and sometimes has as many as 20 calls per day, he said.

“We do as much as we can, but people have to realize, covering fairs is not something that they can just demand us to do, because our main purpose in life is to answer 911 calls,” Mr. Lewin said.

The ambulance district will not charge a fee for events like a high school graduation, but will do so for larger events like the Polish Fair, the Country Fair and Alive on 25.

An ambulance also is required at high school football games, he said.

“We’re not trying to be nasty or anything, but we’ve got to protect our volunteers so that we just don’t burn them out,” Mr. Lewin said. “People have to understand that it’s an effort for a volunteer to spend their day off or their night off doing more volunteer work.”

Photo caption: A view of the Polish Town Fair in 2018. (Credit: Elizabeth Wagner)

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