With under two weeks to go until Fall Town Meeting, Marion officials are hoping voters will approve upward of $349,000 to improve EMS service.
Special Article 4 reads as follows: “To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate or transfer from available funds in the Treasury the sum no 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.”
Town Administrator Paul Dawson had announced at a recent Board of Selectmen meeting that Marion had launched the bidding process for private ambulance service – which would be less expensive, but potentially less invested in the community – in case voters rejected the appropriation. As the bids start to come in, Dawson said he understands that many residents are opposed to the idea.
“I understand how people feel about the private ambulance service,” said Dawson, noting that there are others who are either ambivalent or in favor of privatization. “It’s not my first choice.”
During an interview last week, Dawson reaffirmed that the bidding process in place is “to be prepared,” and said that he had told prospective bidders that he “was even hoping that we wouldn’t have to use them.”
But Dawson also said that the town can’t have it both ways.
“We have a very real problem with our response times, significant deficiencies that the state’s Office of Emergency Services has told us that we have to improve upon if we’re to hold on to our license,” he said. “Things are unacceptable as they stand. We have to have a staffing plan that’s mindful of the town’s needs. If you don’t want to create new benefitted positions, that’s fine, but there are limited alternatives.
“I have a responsibility to make certain that when someone picks up the phone to call 911, somebody is there,” Dawson said. “I’ve got to have someone ready to go. I’ve got to have a plan in place.”
Dawson said that is a “perfect storm” of conditions that has left Marion and other towns in this position.
“It’s a different era. You used to have nearly all of your emergency employees living in the town they served, on call at a moment’s notice and familiar with the terrain,” Dawson said. “Fast forward 35 years, and that’s not the case anymore. It’s not news to anyone, but it’s a national trend: These men and women are coming from greater distances when something happens. That has an impact. That’s certainly not the only factor in this, but it’s a big one.”
With concerns from some community leaders about the direction of Marion’s budget – from reimbursement policies to grandfathered benefits to the funding of a new position of Facilities Manager (itself approved at Town Meeting in May) – Dawson said he is aware that the EMS funding to strengthen ambulance service could be on shaky ground.
“I learned a long time ago to never try and influence or predict these things,” he said. “My job, along with the Board of Selectmen and others at the Town House, is to present all of the information I can. It’s the voters’ job to decide. And we’ll accept it. We’ll respect it either way. But good, bad, or indifferent, it’s a huge change in how we would operate.”
Marion Fall Town Meeting takes place on October 28 at Sippican School. To read the warrant, visit www.wanderer.com.
By Shawn Badgley