South County EMS

Sunderland opts to join regional EMS

SUNDERLAND — It was unanimous. Sunderland voted “yes” to team up with its neighbors in Whately and Deerfield to create the South County Emergency Medical Service.

A total 76 people turned out at a Friday special town meeting to upgrade the town’s EMS service from basic to paramedic.

“We need this service,” said Kathy Ryan Gagnon, a resident, whose husband recently had to use the ambulance. “It’s like an insurance you hope to hell you never have to use. You want the best you can get. I’m paying my $42.”

Residents agreed to enter into an inter-municipal agreement with Deerfield and Whately to establish the regional EMS and pay $155,366 for their share of the service for the remaining year.

Deerfield’s share is $255,488, while Whately’s portion is $83,735.

Though the three towns’ boards of selectmen don’t need townspeople approval to enter into an inter-municipal agreement, the three boards are asking residents anyway due to the significance of the partnership.

With Sunderland’s vote, the towns move one step closer to creating a regional 24/7 paramedic ambulance service — a proposal the towns have worked on for more than two years.

A primary ambulance would be based at the South Deerfield fire station with a backup at the Sunderland Public Safety Complex until the towns find a permanent home.

The projected full-year budget for the first full fiscal year from July 2014 to June 2015 would be $749,595. The total individual town assessment is $387,990 for Deerfield, $235,972 for Sunderland and $125,632 for Whately.

In Sunderland, the service would add 21 cents to the tax rate. The approximate annual impact for a $275,000 home is $57.75.

It’s two down, one to go.

Sunderland’s vote follows Whately’s, which also overwhelmingly voted to join the service earlier this week.

The fate of the regional EMS service is now up to Deerfield.

The largest of the three towns, and the one to cover 51.76 percent of the cost, will have the last vote on Oct. 28.

If all three towns approve the proposal, the service would likely start in January.

Which way Deerfield will vote is hard to predict. At its special town meeting, residents will be asked to choose between the regional service and an expanded local option for $35,000 less.

For that reason, Deerfield chose to vote last to see how the other two towns voted.

One of the major hurdles for passage in Deerfield is the membership of the regional service’s Board of Oversight. The selectboards and EMS directors have proposed equal membership with each town getting two voting members and as the fiscal agent, Deerfield would get an additional nonvoting member.

Many residents, however, feel Deerfield should have more of the voting power on the oversight board because it bears 51.76 percent of the cost.

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