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CSEA challenges privatization of Lockport ambulance billing

LOCKPORT – The city’s white-collar union announced Wednesday that it intends to file an unfair labor practice charge against the City of Lockport for privatizing its ambulance billing.

The Common Council two weeks ago hired MultiMed, a Baldwinsville company, to handle the work done for many years by Fire Department employee Barbara Parker. The contract takes effect May 1.

Mayor Michael W. Tucker said Parker is being transferred to a new Accounting Department position.

“I created a position in accounting. We have several holes we need to fill,” Tucker said. “She’ll still be employed. She won’t lose a nickel in pay.”

But the Civil Service Employees Association said ambulance billing has been handled by one of its members for nearly 30 years, and the union wants to keep it that way.

“Ambulance billing in Lockport is not broken, and it does not need to be fixed,” CSEA unit President Vicki Haenle said.

“We already have a highly qualified, dedicated city employee – and city resident – working hard every day on taxpayers’ behalf. A private company 140 miles away will not care about Lockport taxpayers.”

Tucker said Parker will be shifted around from department to department as needed, “pretty much” all for bookkeeping and accounting duties.

Ambulance bills are among the city’s largest sources of nontax revenue, frequently topping $600,000 a year.

The contract calls for the city to pay a percentage of the bills to MultiMed.

“It’ll be between 7 and 10 percent,” Tucker said.

The unfair labor practice charge would be heard by the state Public Employment Relations Board.

Despite city officials’ hopes that MultiMed might be able to obtain more money from insurers, the CSEA said Medicare reimbursement rates are fixed by the federal government.

In another matter at Wednesday’s Council meeting, an operations and maintenance agreement was approved with the state Canal Corp. for the Flight of Five, the 19th century canal locks.

It’s up to the city to supply workers and funds to operate two of the five locks when they are restored next year.

The cost is in dispute. Tucker said the Canal Corp. estimates the tab at $100,000 a year but that it might be as little as $75,000.

“We’ll have to find a way to pay for it,” Tucker said.

Two seasonal workers will have to be hired, but Tucker said the Erie Canal Discovery Center has expressed some interest in taking over the operation itself. That would get the city off the financial hook.

Also Wednesday, the Council gave citations to nearly 50 volunteers who tend flowers and plants in city parks.

The Parks and Flower Partners program started in 1999. Tucker said the official recognition is “way overdue.”