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Liberty considers taking over ambulance service

By Fran Gonzalez | Feb 18, 2020
Source: File photo

Montville —

The Liberty Volunteer Ambulance Service will dissolve the association by year’s end and the town of Liberty is mulling over running the service as a municipal ambulance.

Members of the LVAS, Liberty selectmen and Fire Chief  Bill Gillespie met with the Montville Board of Selectmen and residents Feb. 11 at the Montville Town Office to talk about the future of the service and how it might change.

Ambulance Service Chief Chris Birge announced at the beginning of the meeting that he would be stepping down, along with Jason Earl, the assistant chief, at the end of the year. Birge said no one was interested in taking over the tasks, so they took a vote and decided to dissolve the association.

The association alerted the town of Liberty, Birge said, and the town has shown interest in taking over the service and making it a municipal department.

Gillespie said the language in Liberty’s warrant would be “to see if the town will allow (the municipality) to take over or assume responsibility for the ambulance service,” and added that the budget amount of $74,000, which was requested last year from both Liberty and Montville, will not change.

“In order to create structure we looked at this as a potential opportunity,” Gillespie said. “We are not looking for any more work, but we also don’t want to lose the ambulance service.”

According to Gillespie, the ambulance service would still reside at the Liberty Fire Station, where it currently operates alongside the Fire Department. An assistant chief would be responsible for day-to-day operations, like scheduling and trainings, he said. “Similar to the way things operate now, except looking to have someone there to make the decisions,” he said.

Montville Selectman Cathy Roberts asked when the ambulance association would be dissolved.

“No date has been set,” Gillespie said, “until we have a strategic plan of what we are going to do, we will just continue the way it is (now),” except without a chief or assistant chief as of Jan. 1, 2021. "We will have basically 11 months to come up with a strategic plan.”

Gillespie also said he had no knowledge of any amount other than the $74,000 requested last year of the two towns.

Moving forward, he said, “we will have a better understanding of what the revenue would be, a better understanding of what the expenses are, and we would be able to figure out what expenses would be per town for the service; until we have a year of that (data), it’s hard to know.”

Roberts mentioned a recent article in The Republican Journal that mentioned Searsport Ambulance Service offering neighboring Frankfort a contract to cover ambulance service at a base rate of $10,000 plus charges for individual calls, and wondered if LVAS could offer something similar.

Searsport can do transports to supplement its income, Gillespie said. “We will have one ambulance and cannot do transports. Right now it’s not feasible,” he said.

At Montville’s 2019 town meeting, the article dealing with funding LVAS stipulated that it was "contingent upon Liberty approval of the same article." During discussion of the article, it became evident that the numbers shown in the budget table did not match the numbers Liberty was considering.

Montville residents approved appropriating $51,517 to continue the current weekday coverage only. Subsequently, Liberty residents voted for the highest of the three funding requests, approving $70,204, leaving their town shouldering more of the cost.

Roberts said the way funding was requested last year for LVAS was confusing. “I think in terms of the operations, it wasn’t until we met recently, that was the first time when we got to the nitty-gritty,” she said. “It seemed like things were disorganized.

“We didn’t have an active representative on the board, and that was a mistake,” Roberts said. “I hadn’t heard the association was in potential trouble up until a couple months ago.”

Montville resident and former clerk Susan Shell said that in the past, each town meeting decided independently how much to spend for the service, even though they are dependent on each other and the meetings are held on the same day. With “this new model, by taking it on as a municipal department and contracting with Montville, everyone knows and feels it is fair,” Shell said.

One resident asked whether, if both towns approved spending $74,000, that would provide 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week coverage

Gillespie said it would provide the current Monday-through-Friday coverage from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., with two members. On weekends, only one member is available. Volunteers would cover overnights during the week and weekends, and the ambulance service relies on fire department crews for supplemental drivers.

One Montville resident said that, at the town meeting two years ago, an EMT and a driver were proposed. ”Now there is an advanced EMT and a regular EMT; the difference is $16,000 per town less," he said.

“If we just had an EMT and a driver, that would mean $16,000 less, or $59,000,” he said. “I would as soon fix the pothole outside of the Town Office instead of going for the Cadillac version (of the ambulance service); we are not Portland; we’re not Augusta; we cannot afford increases every year.”

Roberts said an ambulance service is a priority, but  it must be sustainable and predictable. “It sounds like getting people is the challenge,” she said.

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