BELMONT — Selectmen expressed sympathy for a suggestion by a former town official that a portion of the ambulance billing funds received by the town go to buy safety equipment for the Police Department but say that fund is restricted to Fire Department and ambulance use only.
At a public hearing last evening former Belmont Town Administrator Donald McLelland pointed out in about half of all emergency responses it is the Police Department that is first on the scene and that as long as regular budget items for the Fire Department are being paid for from the Fire/Ambulance Equipment and Apparatus Fund that consideration should be given to other departments which respond to emergencies and whose budgets bear the costs of responding.
His comments came during a hearing held by selectmen on a proposed warrant article which would use $93,945 from the fund, which had a balance as of the end of October of $345,367, for a number of routine expenses.
The warrant article calls for spending $40,000 for overtime coverage, $26,745 for medical and supply expenses, 12,500 for billing fees, $6,000 for fuel, $5,000 for vehicle repairs, $1,200 for training expenses, $1,000 for telephone expense, $1,000 for office supplies and $500 for conferences and dues.
''My only concern is that thought should be given to opening up the fund for safety equipment for the police,'' said McLelland.
But long-time Selectman Jon Pike recalled that when selectmen tried in the past to use the money from the fund for safety vests for police the town's legal counsel ruled it out.
Town Administrator Jean Beaudin said voters would have to approve a change in the purpose of the fund in order for it to be used by other departments and that in the past the public had not supported any change.
Pike said that over the last 20 years or so ambulance coverage has expanded so much that what the town now has is ''basically an ambulance company with a fire department attached.''
Fire Chief David Parenti said that the fund, also known as the Comstar Special revenue Fund, collects about $200,000 a year from ambulance billings and uses about $90,000 to $100,000 a year for routine department expenses with the rest going for capital expenses.
Parenti and selectmen also discussed the $54,354 contract with Lakes Regional Mutual Fire Aid for dispatch services for the Fire Department.
In 2013, the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid budget was $554,000 for the 11 Belknap County communities. That bill was apportioned to each individual county taxpayer based on equalized taxable property value and included in the county portion of an annual tax bill. Last year Belmont's share of the bill was $34,381 — some $20,000 less.
The difference is because the agency allocates expenses to member communities based on a formula that takes both property value and population into account, not just property value. Because Belmont has little lakefront property to tax, is ratio of population to property value is relatively high for the region.
Pike said he would like towns to have more oversight over the LRFMA budget and Parenti, who is one of the directors of the LRFMA, said that after the budget is developed in September a public budget hearing, at which all 36 member communities will be invited, will be held in October.