HARPSWELL, Maine — Harpswell voters approved expansion of emergency medical services to around the clock without dissent Saturday at a special town meeting.
The Dec. 7 meeting of about 100 voters at the Harpswell Community School gymnasium took just less than 10 minutes.
Approval of the nearly $35,000 proposal will expand EMS coverage by Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick from 12 hours a day, five days a week, to 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from January to March 2014.
The expenditure will come out of the town’s unassigned fund balance and increase taxes by one-third of 1 percent next year.
The expansion means a paramedic will be on hand 24/7, filling a gap left by an unsteady number of volunteer first responders in the area. It will also fill a gap left by the town’s lack of volunteer paramedics, who are trained to provide more on-site treatment than an emergency medical technician.
Moreover, the increased coverage comes at a time when the town is faced with an aging demographic, which has created a greater need for EMS first responders.
To continue around-the-clock service after March, voters will have to approve a proposal to begin year-round 24/7 EMS coverage at next year’s annual town meeting.
That would extend coverage to March 2015 and cost the town about $155,000 more than the $123,000 it paid this year for partial service. If approved, it would increase taxes by about 2 percent next year.
Some laughter erupted after Saturday’s proposal was approved, seemingly in response to the short length of the meeting, compared to town meetings that typically consume several hours.
The swift and decisive vote caught volunteer firefighter and lifelong resident David Chipman off guard. His father helped found the rescue side of the Harpswell Neck Fire and Rescue Department in the 1950s.
Chipman said he had prepared a speech in support of the proposal, just in case.
“Our aging population, when you look at the people in this room, most of them are getting up to where they will be requiring some medical assistance,” he said.
“I’m really not surprised by the vote, but it was unanimous. No debate at all,” something he had never seen at a town meeting before, Chipman continued. “I am surprised that there were no questions. Everybody came here with the intention of doing this and getting it done.”
He said he thinks the vote will set a positive precedent for approval of year-round 24/7 EMS coverage at next year’s town meeting in March.
Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said the town now must finalize a contract with Mid Coast Hospital and create additional space at Town Hall to provide sleeping quarters for a paramedic.
The town was expected to receive bids on Wednesday for a proposal to construct a building next to the recycling station off Mountain Road to house the paramedic and an EMS interceptor vehicle in the future, Eiane said.
The proposed 720-square-foot building is expected to cost around $138,000, which has already been appropriated by two prior town meetings. The town paid Normand Associates Architects around $12,000 to design the building.