Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz, citing dangerously slow response times on emergency medical calls, said today that Mayor-elect Michael Nutter should not cut taxes before assessing the state of city services.

"Most of the departments we look at, we see gaping holes in service," Butkovitz said at a news conference at which he released his performance audit of the Fire Department's Emergency Medical Services Division. "We're in the midst of this tax-cutting craze."

Nutter has pledged to enact tax reforms, including scaling back the business-privilege tax.

But the controller said the assumption behind the "tax-cutting craze" is that city services are up to snuff. The EMS performance is one example of where services are falling short, he said.

National standards call for emergency medical personnel to arrive at an accident scene in 8 minutes, 59 seconds, Butkovitz said. Nearly one-third of EMS runs in Philadelphia last year took at least 10 minutes, his audit found.

The controller said the problem was not in the performance of the EMS workers, but in their inefficient deployment and the lack of enough ambulance units.

The reliance on 911 increased about 30 percent from 1999 to 2006, even as the population declined an estimated 70,000 people. Butkovitz attributed the increase to an aging population and, possibly, a growth in the number of people without health insurance.

He said that the Fire Department estimated that it would cost $20 million to upgrade the system, but that his office believed it could be done for less.

Implementing a 311 system, which would take non-emergency calls off the 911 system, would help improve the deployment, Butkovitz said. He noted that residents call 911 for rides to the emergency room.

When that happens, "you're jumping into a priority line," he said. The audit by his office was unable to directly link the slow response time to deaths, but said it was not an unreasonable leap to make.

"We infer that if you're making it only 40 percent of the time and these are urgent calls, people are dying," he said.

The audit report, "Strained Resources Creating Major Impediments to Quick Response Time," took more than a year to compile.

Staff writer Gene D'Alessandro contributed to this report.
Contact staff writer Lea Sitton Stanley at 215-854-2796 or lstanley@phillynews.com.