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South County EMS

Solo Deerfield EMS plan slows progress

Whately, Sunderland want to reconvene

WHATELY — The Deerfield Board of Selectmen’s recent decision to explore an expanded local EMS option has stalled progress toward a regionalized South County ambulance program.

This week, the Sunderland Board of Selectmen postponed its special town meeting date, originally scheduled for Sept. 27, to discuss Deerfield’s decision and to tie up loose ends. And the Whately Board of Selectmen also decided to not schedule its special town meeting yet. Both towns have draft warrants.

Both the Sunderland and Whately boards of selectmen asked at their respective meetings to get the three boards back together to discuss Deerfield’s decision. That meeting is Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Whately Center School.

But the towns aren’t abandoning the plan.

“We’re not backing away from the initiative. It just gives us time to do our homework,” said Sunderland Selectman David Pierce at this week’s board meeting.

The postponements come as the towns prepared to hold a tri-town public hearing on the regional ambulance proposal on Sept. 19 at Frontier Regional School. The event was postponed, due to a conflict with a school open house.

The two towns are responding to the Deerfield Board of Selectmen’s decision last week to offer its residents two options to consider at its future special town meeting: the regional 24/7 paramedic ambulance with Whately and Sunderland or an expanded local service. The local service would cost $352,931 to provide rescue coverage 16 hours a day, seven days a week and include seven full-time employees.

Four days prior, the EMS working group reached a majority consensus on the regional proposal after two years of discussion. The group agreed to fund the paramedic service for the three towns for $749,595. The cost includes $638,895 for a net operating budget and $110,700 for capital expenditures. Under the regional service, Deerfield would pay 51.76 percent of the cost, or $387,990. Sunderland would contribute 31.48 percent of the cost, or $235,972. Whately would contribute 16.76 percent of the cost, or $125,632.

The working group would leave the staffing up to the Board of Oversight, which would include a selectmen and experienced EMS representative.

The regional proposal needs the support of the three towns, Whately Town Administrator Lynn Sibley said.

If one town votes it down, the remaining towns would have to go back to the drawing board.

Whately and Sunderland wouldn’t be able to do it alone, said Sibley.

Who votes first?

Several political issues have arisen since Deerfield’s board met with town employees last week.

As the towns try to schedule their individual special town meetings, all are waiting for their neighbors to go first. The Deerfield selectmen hope to hold their town meeting last to see how Whately and Sunderland vote.

And the Whately selectmen also do not want to be the first one to vote.

“I think Deerfield should be the one to jump off the bridge first,” said Whately Selectman Jonathan Edwards. “We should hold off on our meeting.”

Whately selectmen also decided they will make the town’s article conditional on approval of a similar article in Deerfield and Sunderland.

The composition of the Board of Oversight for the regional service is also a contention.

The towns have proposed six members, with each town getting two votes.

Because Deerfield would fund 51.76 percent of the cost and make up 33 miles of the 66-mile coverage area, Deerfield town leaders have questioned whether they should have more than two votes.

“Based on what we did with the senior center, having equal votes makes you work together,” said Edwards at the Tuesday board meeting.

“It’s a reasonable thing to fear,” said Whately Selectman Joyce Palmer Fortune. “If we want to do a collaboration, the power sharing can’t be one where one has more control.”

Meanwhile, the Whately board requested data from Whately Ambulance Director Gary Stone and Town Administrator Lynn Sibley on the response times and calls of the town department.

This year, Whately townspeople added $32,165 to the ambulance budget. The budget is $56,143.

The budget increase supported a new system that required two of Whately’s 16 EMTs to be on call from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The local department also increased stipends to make it more affordable for volunteers to leave paid jobs to respond to calls. Stone said he doesn’t think the town has given the local department enough time to produce improved results.

“We need that information,” said Whately Selectmen’s Chairman Paul Newlin.

Stone is a proponent of the local service and has reservations about the regional proposal. Whichever direction Whately chooses, Stone said he would support.

“If this thing went through, I’ll support it 100 percent,” Stone said.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
kmckiernan@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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