Advocate for ending an ambulance equipment fund, Roger Grey (left) listens as the public speaks mostly in opposition to the petitioned article at a Sanbornton public hearing Tuesday. The petitioned article would discontinue the town's Emergency Medical Services Fire and Rescue Apparatus, Equipment and Vehicles Special Revenue Fund. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)
Sanbornton hearing airs opposition to ambulance fund article
By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
SANBORNTON — The victim of a horrific equine accident offered a vigorous and emotional defense of local emergency responders and opposed a petitioned article that seeks to discontinue a special revenue fund for the fire department's emergency medical services equipment.
Jackie Riendeau required ambulance transport after sustaining severe head injuries in what was initially reported as a horse-riding accident.
"I was probably their first call of 2017," Riendeau said about the accident, which nearly killed her.
Fire Chief Paul Dexter said the absence of witnesses and Riendeau's inability to recall what happened means emergency responders still aren't sure exactly what happened, but it appears she might have fallen from a horse or might have been kicked by a horse.
In any event, Riendeau's recovery was considered nothing short of a miracle.
"It's because of these guys that I'm able to stand here today," she said during a Tuesday, Feb. 21, public hearing about Warrant Article 12. The article is titled, "Petitioned Article to Discontinue the 'Emergency Medical Services Fire and Rescue Apparatus, Equipment and Vehicles Special Revenue Fund' per NH RSA 31:95-d."
The majority of speakers at the hearing opposed the article, but Riendeau offered perhaps the most personal perspective.
"All the neurology schools in this country say they don't know how I'm alive," she told a hushed audience.
"They know what they're doing with their funds, they know what they're doing with their people," Riendeau said of the fire and rescue agency.
Elaborating in an interview, Riendeau said emergency responders arrived at the scene in 7 minutes, and she was transported to Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia and then to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. She was treated for fractures to bones in her skull. After two or three days in a coma, she continued to receive medical treatment and then was released Jan. 16.
A standing-room-only crowd at Sanbornton Town Hall broke into applause after Riendeau shared her story.
The petitioned article found little support at the hearing, with Roger Grey, representative of the Concerned Sanbornton Citizens, a group pushing for the shift in funding, as its chief defender.
Grey said the fund, worth $273,004, could be discontinued and that money could go into town coffers to help reduce the tax rate.
"What's wrong with taking the ambulance revenue and putting it back into the general fund to help defray the cost of running the ambulance?" Grey asked. "That's what other towns do. Franklin does it. That's what we did prior to 1999."
Grey said 95 percent of assessed valuation is from residential properties, putting a burden on property owners. Sanbornton desperately needs additional revenue sources, he said. Discontinuing the ambulance fund frees up $50,000 a year in annual ambulance revenue for other uses, he said.
Mary Baxter, an emergency medical technician, said killing the fund is a solution in search of a problem.
"It's been so responsibly handled over the years, and it's made for the taxpayers one less group of things to worry about," she said.
Bill Whalen said shifting the billing revenues into the town's unreserved fund balance would not alleviate the need for equipment.
"It's like putting it nowhere," Whalen said. "Now what you're going to have is every year the Fire Department is going to have to come in and fight for every piece of equipment, anything they need. They're going to have to get it on the warrant. It's going to be a big discussion at the Town Meeting. That's not really necessary."
Former selectman Johnny Van Tassel said, "If we were to take that money away, now he does have other funds that are already earmarked for other pieces of equipment that are planned down the road to be purchased anyway. So if you take that money away, now he has to lease-purchase at the least or come up with the money. Either way, both are going to have to be raised through taxation."
Van Tassel said ending the fund would be "swapping one for the other, not saving any money."
Sara Dupont, a medical social worker who works in a regional emergency room, asked, "How much do we value human life within our own community?"
Article 4 on the town warrant seeks $260,000 for a second ambulance, allowing the existing ambulance to be placed on reserve, with the money for the new ambulance to be paid out of the emergency equipment special revenue fund.
Opponents of the petitioned article said it was not about a second ambulance, but many cited the need for emergency response equipment as a reason to leave the fund alone.
Dupont said, "When two 911 calls come in for a family in a car accident and a person with a heart attack, who do they go to first? Whose life is more valuable? Because without that second ambulance, we're making a call to another area, and we're going to pull that resource from that other area and we're going to delay response time. And I can tell you from in the ER, I know when somebody has had a delayed response time because their survivability rate is decreased, no matter how hard our EMS works. And that is a vastly different conversation that I'll be having with the family."
Dexter explained that a fire engine containing life-saving equipment responds to calls when an ambulance is not available.
"So the crew can respond and stabilize you, while we wait, which can be 10, 15, 20, 25 minutes depending on one of our neighbors being able to come in and assist us," he said.
Craig Davis, citizen's representative to the Sanbornton Capital Improvements Program Committee, said the petitioned article would undo years of planning and equipment budgeting. "This is smoke and mirrors," he said. "If this goes through, it's going to blow up the whole plan and how the town functions."
Davis said taxes will go up because equipment costs will come out of the regular town budget rather than from the fund, which is replenished by insurance billing from the patients who are transported. He also argued that emergency response needs will only increase.
"The people in this town are getting older and older. To go backwards makes no sense at all," he said.
Sanbornton Fire Chief Paul Dexter speaks at a public hearing Tuesday about a petitioned article that would discontinue the town's Emergency Medical Services Fire and Rescue Apparatus, Equipment and Vehicles Special Revenue Fund. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)