Staying or going?
That was the gist of a letter Brookhaven Town’s law department sent Bellport Village last week, asking that the town be kept abreast of the village’s future plans for ambulance coverage.
The town had recently read (or heard) reports that the village might secede from the South Country Ambulance district, now that Brookhaven approved borrowing up to $17 million for a new ambulance headquarters, said Bellport Mayor Ray Fell.
“I don’t know where the village is going to go, but the town is asking we provide them with what our intentions are, and for a schedule of when we’ll be able to tell them whether we’re staying or leaving,” Fell said.
Even though the town does the bonding, that $17 million would have to be paid back by district taxpayers, which for now includes Bellport Village.
Fell stressed at Monday night’s Village Board meeting that any reports or rumors of a planned secession are overblown.
It’s just that the village wants to figure out what the new headquarters would cost its taxpayers, and if it would be cheaper and just as safe to establish a Bellport Village ambulance company, or even contract with another ambulance service, he said.
“I think it’s our fiduciary responsibility to at least check the figures, and then make a decision based on what is the best for the village,” Fell said.
To that end, the mayor said he would like to arrange a meeting with himself, South Country Ambulance head Gregory Miglino Jr. and Mike Foster, a village resident who wrote a five-page fiscal analysis of South Country that includes its current and projected costs to the village — and what a village company would cost.
Some of Foster’s numbers conflict drastically with Miglino’s, Fell said.
The mayor also plans to meet with town officials in what could be described as a fact-finding mission.
Both the mayor and Bellport Trustee Bob Rosenberg also expressed lingering concerns with statements Miglino made to the Brookhaven Town Board during a public hearing in July.
A short video of those statements was played on a screen by village resident Thomas Schultz Monday night.
Miglino is seen and heard on the video saying: “We only have one volunteer from Bellport village. One. I have a volunteer here from Lawrence; he’s in the back of room. Lawrence, New York, sends as many volunteers to help our community as the Village of Bellport.
“I’d be happy if we didn’t cover them anymore.”
Schultz said that, based on Miglino’s remarks and some veiled threats he said he received from volunteers that night in Town Hall, it was as if the village was being “held hostage” by the ambulance company.
In an interview after Monday night’s meeting, Miglino said he regretted those statements in July.
“Those comments were not representative of my department, meaning that’s not how a leader should have represented his people,” he said. “And to the extent any of those comments gave anyone in this village angst as to the level of service they might receive, I apologize.”
He said he had felt as if he and his volunteer ambulance company were under attack that night, and stressed that no matter the politics at work at the moment, anyone living anywhere in the district should feel safe.
That includes the village.
“We are 100 percent committed, regardless of any disagreement with anybody, to providing the best care we can, all the time,” he said. “That’s how we’ve run our operation for years. That’s why we’re considered the best in the county, one of the best in the state, and we’re going to continue to do that.
“My members are not having the disagreements,” he added. “These are leaders, and some residents, having disagreements over what … are administrative things, not care.”
He believes much of the concerns being aired in Village Hall are rooted in “hurt feelings” that occurred at the town level during the many months it took for the Town Board to approve funding for the project.
“As leaders, it’s time to get beyond that, and make sure that the community knows that their health and welfare is the only concern of village leadership and the ambulance company,” he said.
Miglino said he would gladly meet with the mayor to discuss numbers.
If Bellport Village were to secede, the rest of the South Country Ambulance district would see only a negligible bump in their tax bills, Miglino said when asked if such a move could threaten the headquarters project.
Meanwhile, he said, there are no other ambulance companies in the county available for a contract, and insisted it would be a “Herculean task” for the village to establish its own department.
“The cost would be catastrophic,” he said.
Photo: South Country Ambulance owns the station in Bellport Village. (Michael White)