HERMON, Maine — A time, date and place have been set for what is being billed as a “problem solving” meeting between town councilors and members of the Hermon Volunteer Rescue and First Aid Squad board.
Town Manager Clinton Deschesne said this week that the session will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday in the Hermon Middle School gym and could last as long as six hours.
Unlike earlier talks, Saturday’s session will be led by professional facilitators Deborah and Walter Cupples, who will present an agenda and guidelines before the talks get under way.
Because the meeting will take place outside of the council’s regular meeting room to accommodate what is expected to be a large audience, Deschene said it wouldn’t be streamed live on the town’s website, www.hermon.net.
A notice posted on the website Tuesday said the meeting might be recorded for later viewing, if a recording crew is available. The notice recommended that attendees bring their own lunches and snacks.
Town councilors decided to bring an impartial third party into the talks during a March 17 meeting that drew a capacity crowd of 40 to 50 people to the council’s chambers, most of them supporters of Hermon Rescue.
While not prepared to reverse their month-old vote to bring emergency medical services under the auspices of the town’s Fire Department, councilors did agree to another round of talks with members of the volunteer crew, which has served Hermon for 42 years.
Though relations between town officials and Hermon Rescue have been rocky at times, they took a turn for the worse late last year, when the parties involved found themselves at an impasse.
In December, the council voted 6-1 to reject the latest in a series of contract offers from Hermon Rescue. That proposal called for a three-year agreement at a cost of $40,000 for the first year of service, $50,000 for the second year and $60,000 for the year after that.
In January, local officials decided to seek proposals for ambulance services, noting that years of negotiations had failed to yield a contractual agreement with the local crew.
At that time and since, Deschene has said that the existing squad’s level of service never has been a problem. The problem has been the absence of a contract, which he earlier pointed out was both a risk and a source of concern for a Maine Municipal Association staff attorney the town had consulted.
After a review of proposals from three area entities, one of which was Hermon Rescue, the councilors opted to go in a different direction. During a workshop in mid-February, they voted 6-1 to move toward a fire-based emergency medical services model that would bring ambulance services under the auspices of the town’s Fire Department.
The move caught members of the volunteer squad and their supporters off-guard and prompted talk of a petition seeking a reversal of the decision, and if that fails, a townwide referendum vote.
A day after the council voted to go with the fire-based model, Hermon Rescue Chief Sherman Mason said the decision left some of the group’s roughly 30 members feeling angry, betrayed and baffled.
Another point of contention was that the volunteer crew is nearly finished expanding its headquarters on Billings Road, a project they say was undertaken in good faith.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the session will take place in the Hermon Elementary School. It will take place in the Hermon Middle School.