LACONIA -- A year after assuming management of Laconia's emergency ambulance service from the local hospital, the budget for its operation will end the year in the black.

City Manager Scott Myers shared the news with the city council during their Monday night meeting.

Outsourcing billing to a company whose pay is linked to the amount of reimbursement they collect has helped stem the red ink of write-offs that had plagued operations in the past. It also had prompted the council to consider privatizing the service instead of allowing the fire department to run it without the past partnership of LRGHealthcare.

“It’s been a very solid first year of operation,” said Myers, who estimates that by the time the books are closed, revenues will have exceeded expenses by $10,000 to $15,000.

In addition, $50,000 will have been set aside to go towards buying a replacement ambulance. A new ambulance at an estimated cost of $275,000 to $300,000 is needed every five to six years.

"I'm confident we will be cash-flow positive by the time we close out the year. I'm very pleased with how our projections came out in the first year of running this," Myers told the council.

In fiscal year 2019 from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019, the ambulance made 3,507 billable transports and collected $891,000 in revenue to date while recording expenses of about $920,000. During that time, the department also provided an in-house paramedic and advanced Emergency Medical Technician refresher course taught by Deputy Chief Shawn Riley, that generated $10,000 in revenue.

“We’re still waiting on final numbers. Even though we transported people in April, May and June, those bills are still being processed and we won’t have final numbers until September or October,” Fire Chief Kirk Beattie said on Tuesday.

“We really appreciated the council’s faith in us to take over this program and run it on our own after losing the partnership with the hospital. We’ve worked really hard through our practices, with the billing company, and with the city manager and the finance director to make sure this was going to be a successful venture,” Beattie commented.

Deputy Chief Riley, who is a certified ambulance bill coder, said 69 percent of the money the ambulance service collects comes from Medicare, 8 percent from Medicaid, 21 percent from commercial insurance and about three percent is patient paid.

There are many issues that add to the complexities of operating the ambulance service and trying to balance costs with revenue, Riley explained. Among them is Massachusetts Medicaid’s refusal to pay for emergency ambulance service provided in N.H. Another is the practice of auto insurance companies who send payment directly to the policy holder instead of the emergency services provider who transported them to the hospital following a motor vehicle accident.

“Everyone is working hard to make sure the city is paid the money that is it legitimately owed and no more,” Riley said on Tuesday.

The council also voted to amend a policy allowing Chief Beattie to tap on demand about $30,000 already contained in his budget to fill first-shift platoon vacancies when he deems necessary, such as during busy holidays like the Fourth of July or during a stretch of humid weather when call volumes soar. The department typically averages 10 emergency medical services calls each day.