Final proposal for South County EMS ready
WHATELY — For $638,895, townspeople in southern Franklin County could have a 24-hour regional paramedic ambulance service based out of the South Deerfield fire station.
On Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. in the Frontier Regional School auditorium, the townspeople in Whately, Deerfield and Sunderland will weigh in for the first time at a tri-town public hearing.
After almost two years of debate, compromise and budget crunching, the EMS working group — composed of members of the three town boards of selectmen and EMS and fire directors — on Tuesday night reached a final proposal for townspeople to consider.
The ambulance service, designed to quicken response time and patient care, would have one ambulance housed in South Deerfield with a back-up ambulance in the Sunderland Public Safety Complex.
The location is a three-year temporary home. Town leaders hope to find a permanent location in the future and have eyed the Western Massachusetts Library System building in the Whately Industrial Park.
Town leaders have also agreed to fully fund the endeavor and leave the staffing up to the future Board of Oversight made up of EMS directors and selectmen.
What remains to be finalized is a formal agreement with the South Deerfield Fire District and to name a fiscal agent — a task the working group left up to the three town administrators to decide.
With the details decided, the selectmen now have to market their proposal to the townspeople at a public hearing and then put the proposal to a final vote at special town meetings.
“At town meeting, if I can recommend a service that will save a life versus what we have now, that is a compelling argument to me,” said Whately Board of Selectman Chairman Paul Newlin.
The total proposed net operating budget is $638,895, with $100,700 for capital costs.
The tab for Deerfield would be $382,823. Sunderland’s portion would be $232,800 and Whately’s $123,971.
The cost is based on a formula used by the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District. It calculates 50 percent on the town’s tax base and 50 percent population.
At the three special town meetings, townspeople will be asked to fund only the second half of the fiscal year from January to June. The three town administrators are determining exactly what the specific numbers will be.
The meeting dates are to be determined. In Sunderland, the Board of Selectmen set a tentative date for a special town meeting on Sept. 27.
In the spring, Sunderland approved a $186,525 budget for fire and EMS for Fiscal Year 2014. Deerfield taxpayers funded $190,000 for its EMS service. And Whately taxpayers agreed to pay $56,143 for the EMS budget for the current fiscal year.
For weeks, the working group has been stuck on how to staff the service. Sunderland Fire Chief Robert Ahearn proposed a $485,529 net operating budget that would include four full-time staffers. It would include two paramedics and two basic EMTs and a working director. Four per-diem paramedics and EMTs would provide back up in the second ambulance.
Supporters of Ahearn’s model argued staffing at a lower number would allow the towns to correct any mistakes and gradually increase to a full-time professional force.
“I’m of the mind set that if we front load the labor pool to high, it won’t come down,” said Sunderland Board of Selectmen Chairman Scott Bergeron. “If it is too low, we can ask for another full-time employee. I’d rather go back to town meeting hat in hand and say we need more.”
Deerfield EMS Director Matt Russo, on the other hand, proposed a $638,895 budget that would include eight full-time paramedics and EMTs to support the first and second ambulances. The budget was adjusted since it was first proposed to account for office expenses.
It would bring the service to its end goal right from the start.
Supporters of Russo’s plan, which included Deerfield Board of Selectmen Chairman Mark Gilmore and Newlin, believed for a $153,366 difference the towns could already have what they need and not have to ask the townspeople for additional money in subsequent years.
“Someone will be living because we spent a little more money,” said Newlin. “Either one is a profitable enterprise. If we go to either one, there are improvements.”
The town leaders turned to Deerfield Police Chief John Paciorek Jr. for advice with his expertise in staffing a full-time and part-time force. And Paciorek firmly recommended Russo’s plan.
“I hate to see such a perfect plan start off lower than it should be,” Paciorek said. “We need to staff it right from the get-go. To go back to three towns and argue back and forth for one, two, three years, it becomes a nightmare. I’m a firm believer in ‘you do it once, you do it right.’”
Gilmore, a staunch supporter of upgrading the EMS and Russo’s plan, devised the solution — fully fund the service to $638,895 and let the future Board of Oversight decide how best to staff the service.
An overwhelming majority supported Gilmore’s suggestion.
These members included Whately’s Paul Newlin, Deerfield’s Gilmore, Russo and Paciorek and Sunderland Selectmen David Pierce and Thomas Fydenkevez and Sunderland Finance Committee member Aleksandra Kajstura.
The supporters of Ahearn’s plan included Bergeron, Whately Selectman Jonathan Edwards and Ahearn.
Whately Selectman Joyce Palmer Fortune had to leave earlier before the vote, but she said she would support the consensus of the group.
Deerfield Selectman Carolyn Shores Ness was absent.