With the Fall Town Meeting just hours away, the Marion Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee have agreed on a recommendation for Article 4, an appropriation of hundreds of thousands of dollars to bolster EMS staff and resources.
But it’s not the Article 4 officials started with, and the funds will not be in the hands of the Fire Department, as originally planned. If a motion to amend Article 4 stands up on Town Meeting floor tonight, the Selectmen will control more than $230,000 in general funds to spend on EMS upgrades. Those could include the use of a private ambulance service in some capacity.
Article 4 originally called for upward of $350,000; the new language reflects a budgetary appropriation for “eight-twelfths” of Fiscal Year 2014, and will earn the OK from the Finance Committee before the town votes.
Finance Committee Chairman Alan Minard had last week expressed skepticism in the revenue estimates presented by Town Administrator Paul Dawson and Fire Chief Thomas Joyce, who estimated a five-year average of 600 ambulance calls annually. Minard said he believed those figures to be inflated, and undertook a quick study in the following days.
What he found was a three-year average of 444 ambulance calls annually, and more modest revenue potential.
Regardless, Minard said during a special meeting on Friday that Marion must respond to the state’s calls for drastically improved response times and quality standards.
“We can go crazy calculating revenue, but we are arguing whether to pain the room blue or green,” Minard said. “The point is, the room needs painting.
Minard added that he was relieved to have hammered out a solution with the Board of Selectmen, but also that he was dissatisfied with the timetable on the article.
“It was a short runway for those of us on the Finance Committee to figure out a way to fix this,” Minard said. “Moving forward, we need to understand where the money is going. With the funds under the Board of Selectmen’s control instead of the Fire Department, we can maintain some flexibility and have some choices down the line.”
Fellow Finance Committee member Margie Becker agreed.
“This is an opportunity to really scrutinize our ambulance service,” Becker said. “We’ve got to put the Fire Department on notice that they have to do better.”
“The state’s already put them on notice,” Minard replied. “We know we have some personnel issues, but we thought a lot of money could exacerbate those issues. We have till February [the state-set deadline for an improvement plan] to come up with a strategy.”
Fall Town Meeting takes place tonight, Oct. 28, at 6:45 pm at the Sippican School.
By Shawn Badgley