At a special meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen on Tuesday night, members of the Finance Committee told officials from the Town House and Fire Department that they would need more – and better – information before issuing a recommendation on Article 4 of the Fall Town Meeting warrant.
The article reads as follows: “To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate or transfer from available funds in the Treasury the sum not to exceed $349,108 to supplement the Fiscal Year 2014 Fire Department budget for the purpose of augmenting ambulance staffing and related expenses; or take any other action thereon.”
The funds would pay for shifts for “one paramedic and one EMT to staff the station and be on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Town Administrator Paul Dawson said. They would also provide a stipend for another paramedic and another EMT to be on call “to serve as back-up under the circumstances of a second call or an event demanding multiple personnel and resources.”
None of the additional positions – which would top out at 20 hours per week on an annualized basis – would include benefits.
Dawson said that the Selectmen were putting forth the measure because the town is in danger of not “meeting all of the state protocols” after the Massachusetts Office of Emergency Services deemed Marion’s response times and Continuous Quality Improvement standards “unacceptable.”
In turn, more than $20,000 would be dedicated to a consultant and in-house review to monitor the department’s deficiencies and progress.
While the Finance Committee digested those figures, Dawson went on to discuss the revenue potential of a bolstered EMS, calculating that more than $275,000 in additional insurance reimbursement could be expected to offset the financial impact on the town. Dawson based the number on three factors: a five-year average of 600 calls a year based on recently increased town rates; expanded personnel and resources to handle in-town calls that might otherwise have to be handled by outside communities like Wareham; and those same expanded personnel and resources enabling Marion to provide mutual aid to those outside communities.
But the Finance Committee wasn’t buying it.
“I don’t believe that this thing’s going to make money for the first few years,” Chairman Alan Minard said. “So, the general fund’s going to have to pay for it.”
Minard went on to call the figures Dawson presented as “specious,” saying that “the numbers don’t feel right based on the limited amount of research I’ve done.”
In particular, Minard said he felt that the 600-calls-a-year average was inflated, while Associate Member Peter Winters insisted that the revenue estimates should be based only on calls that included transport, and therefore billing.
After consultation with Fire Department Chief Thomas Joyce, Dawson conceded that his calculations could be erroneous, as the calls he reported as part of the average could have included those in which the deployment of an ambulance did not take place.
“There may be some changes in the numbers,” Dawson said. “That’s something I was not aware of.”
Joyce and Dawson said that they could provide Minard and the Finance Committee the “total number of transports” and “runs” in the coming days. Minard insisted upon it.
“I’m not standing up before the town to say, ‘Hey, this is a great idea,’ based on numbers pulled out of the air or that are unverifiable,” he said. “I’d like to feel sure about what we’re talking about here.”
By Shawn Badgley