Sanbornton Fire & Rescue emergency medical technicians Dan Chapman (left) and Duncan Phillips unload a cot with a cardiac monitor from the Sanbornton ambulance Thursday. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)
Sanbornton Budget Committee member pushes for warrant article
By DAVID CARKHUFF, THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
SANBORNTON — A special revenue fund for fire and rescue emergency medical services equipment, worth $273,004, could go into town coffers to help reduce the tax rate, say advocates for a petitioned article that would kill the fund.
"The idea was to shut the fund down, and that would eliminate the money for the second ambulance. By discontinuing the fund, that money would go back to the taxpayers," said Roger Grey, representative of the Concerned Sanbornton Citizens, a group pushing for the shift in funding.
Grey is a member of the Sanbornton Budget Committee and member of the Sanbornton Fire Department Regionalization Study Committee.
"There's a group of us who feel our town, a town of 2,900, doesn't need a second ambulance," Grey said.
By a vote at Town Meeting, the money could be allocated to other needs.
A public hearing on Tuesday will give voters a chance to review the petitioned article. The hearing is 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21, at the Town Office Building, 573 Sanborn Road, Sanbornton.
Warrant Article 12 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." Critics of the article say it would upend years of planning and leave the town vulnerable with only one ambulance.
Arguments for discontinuing the fund include the point that setting aside $50,000 in ambulance annual revenue could help lower taxes for the taxpayers and that using the current ambulance fund balance of $273,004 could reduce the tax rate and defray other town costs.
Fire Chief Paul Dexter said he couldn't understand absorbing the Emergency Medical Services Fire and Rescue Apparatus, Equipment and Vehicles Special Revenue Fund and redirecting the money to the highway department or for lowering the tax rate, as proposed.
Dexter said that $273,000 is only going to be "a feel-good thing for the first year."
"Then, there isn't another $273,000 next year to offset the taxes so then we have to ask the taxpayers for money to replace an ambulance," he said.
Proponents also argued that the town can draw on a Fire Truck Repair and Refurbish Capital Reserve Fund with an estimated balance by this budget year's end of $85,016 with an additional $10,000 added in next year's budget. They noted that the fire department also maintains a Fire Truck Replacement Capital Reserve Fund with an estimated balance at the end of the current budget year of $266,946, with an additional $70,000 added in next year's budget.
The Fire Truck Replacement Capital Reserve Fund, Dexter said, is designed to replace fire trucks. The $70,000 addition to this fund is based on a current plan for 20- to 25-year rotations of new fire trucks, he said.
The Fire Truck Repair and Refurbish Capital Reserve Fund, Dexter said, handles major repairs which can't be covered by his $13,000 vehicle repair budget in the fire department budget.
Proponents said discontinuing the ambulance fund "should put to rest, at least for the foreseeable future, the request for a second ambulance," which isn't warranted, they said.
Dexter said last year was a busy one for Sanbornton Fire & Rescue, with an increase of 14 percent for emergency calls and an increase of 30 percent for all service-related inspections and permits. The ambulance goes on all of the estimated 450 calls a year that the fire department runs, Dexter said.
Dexter said yearly mileage on the ambulance is 7,069 miles per year, according to a memo of questions and answers from the Sanbornton Fire Department Regionalization Study Committee.
When asked the justification for a second ambulance, he wrote, "On average we place the current ambulance 'out of service' 10 to 15 times yearly for maintenance issues like warranty recalls, preventive maintenance and emergency breakdowns, we average another 20 emergency calls for service which are simultaneous calls which we have to call in another town to cover the second call for transport of the patient, we still send an Engine to the scene since the engine carries lifesaving equipment to stabilized a patient until a transport ambulance arrives. Over the last two years we had another town transport patients 39 times."
Grey said, "Belknap County is fortunate to have an excellent mutual aid network, and if our ambulance is tied up, one of the surrounding communities would rush to our aid."
But Dexter said, "We draw from Tilton, Franklin, New Hampton, and they're having problems covering second calls, as we all are."
A second ambulance is part of the five-year plan for the department, Dexter said.
The fund is used annually to cover the cost of a billing company, which is paid $6,000 a year. The fund is automatically reimbursed through the billing company based on patient transports, Dexter said. The town receives about 95 percent of commitments outstanding, he said.
"It's like a capital reserve account we're developing for the future," he said.
The fund has been in place for 18 years. It was established back in 1999. In 2008, the fund was expanded to allow fire and EMS equipment and apparatus, Dexter said. In 2011, it was expanded again to allow vehicles, he said.
In the life of the fund, the town has accrued $961,129 of revenue over 18 years, with close to $687,029 in taxes deferred through use of the fund, Dexter said.
"If this article passes, then the money will be transferred to the general fund, and then moving forward, quite honestly we don't know what it will look like," Dexter said.
The town auditor recommended keeping those revenues separate from the general fund, Dexter said.
The Budget Committee voted 4-1, with Grey in the minority, to oppose the petition article. Selectmen also voted to oppose the petition article.
A warrant article for two full-time firefighters and emergency medical service technicians, for $139,800, is not affected by the revenue fund petitioned article.
A second ambulance is part of a five-year plan for the fire and rescue department in Sanbornton, the fire chief reports. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)