October 14, 2019
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Hermon dips into savings to bail out debt-ridden ambulance service

Callie Ferguson | BDN
Callie Ferguson | BDN
An ambulance for the Hermon Volunteer Rescue Squad.

The Hermon Town Council has set a goal of coming up with a long-term plan to aid its debt-saddled volunteer ambulance service by October, a town official said.

That decision was made after the council allocated nearly $25,ooo in undesignated funds on June 7 to provide short-term relief to the Hermon Volunteer Rescue, which is $300,000 in debt, Town Manager Howard Kroll said.

The stopgap funding measure is the beginning of a sequence meant to ensure the council finds a way to solve the squad’s financial problem, which has imperiled the town’s only ambulance service and been the past subject of contentious town debate.

But if the council fails to come up with a plan by Oct. 4, Kroll said, that will trigger a special town meeting on Oct. 11, where voters can decide to refill the squad’s reserve fund with $25,000.

Voters are required to approve expenditures of $25,000 or more, which is why councilors in a 6-0 vote earlier this month were only able to allocate $24,999 to the service. Councilor Steve Watson, who serves on the squad’s board, abstained from the vote, Kroll said.

“The goal [of that sequence] is, obviously, so we can come to a long-term plan. If not, this forces the discussion to continue,” Kroll said.

It’s still unclear what a long-term plan will look like, Councilor Jeanne Jacques said. Councilors have not begun to discuss options since they went over the rescue nonprofit’s financial documents at the June 7 meeting, she said.

The plan will represent the newest chapter in a decade-long conversation about funding the nonprofit service. In 2010, councilors stopping funding the squad. Some thought the town would turn a profit if it operated its own rescue service, but that angered members of the public who felt loyal to volunteers who have served Hermon and surrounding towns for more than four decades.

While cut free of a town subsidy that varied in amounts, the 30-person squad was allowed to keep running as an independent outfit.

Since then, it has made some big expenditures while seeing its revenues dip, according to financial documents. The service only makes money by billing patients, but in recent years those reimbursements have declined below what its costs to fund annual operating expenses, documents show.

The squad has tried to diversify its revenue by lending its services to private venues like Speedway 95, and one member donates to the service the money she makes by completing billing services for other organizations, Council Chairman Steve Thomas said.

Still, it’s difficult for the service to pay its bills, including a mortgage payment on a newly renovated building and loans on two new ambulances.

The council in May discussed helping the ambulance service, but heated indecision about how to move forward pushed a possible funding plan past the deadline to send the question to voters at the June 14 Town Meeting, Thomas said.

“The council understands the time sensitivity of this issue as well as the importance supplying EMS services for its citizens and shall make a goal to work to finalize a workable solution with the leadership from HVRS over the next 120 days,” states a council resolve that established the EMS fund on June 7.

One option considered by councilors was taking over the service’s debt in exchange for the squad’s building on Billings Road. But Kroll said councilors were “nowhere near [the] discussion” on taking on the debt. Jacques said it was too early to speculate about a plan.

It’s also unclear what will happen to the rescue squad without a long term solution. The nonprofit did not respond to calls for comment, but earlier this month, a member vowed that it wasn’t going anywhere.

In the meantime, the squad has made three written, itemized requests for funding, Kroll said. So far, they have requested nearly $10,000 to cover payments for medical supplies and workers compensation insurance, he said.

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