Some Hermon residents are continuing to push their Town Council to provide more funding to support the town’s volunteer ambulance service after its financial problems were the basis of a heated confrontation between a councilor and a resident two weeks ago.
The Hermon Volunteer Rescue & First Aid Squad, a nonprofit organization, used to receive regular funding from the town.
But that arrangement ended in 2010, and in recent years, the service has been losing money because it can’t cover all its expenses with the revenue it generates from ambulance rides, donations and other services. The organization had $300,000 in debts as of last year.
The town has raised about $50,000 in stopgap funds for the service over the last year, but supporters say it needs much more than that.
Now, some residents are imploring the town to again provide regular funding to the service. During a Town Council meeting Thursday, numerous residents said they would support providing about $210,000 annually to the service beginning next year.
“I bought my place on Mountain View Drive three-and-a-half years ago, and I looked at Hermon Rescue as a big selling point,” resident Shawn Clark said during the meeting’s public comment period. “If my kid falls in the pool or something like that, they’re there in a heartbeat.”
That amount, which the service has requested from the town this year, would pay for it to be staffed by two people around the clock, each making $12 an hour, according to Hermon Town Manager Howard Kroll. That’s the Maine minimum wage taking effect in 2020.
Right now, Kroll said, the service’s providers only make a $50 stipend for every eight-hour shift they work, and the organization hopes the better pay would help it recruit more people to provide that coverage.
In 2015, the service also entered a 10-year non-financial agreement with the town to provide 24-hour ambulance coverage or ensure that other services will respond to 911 calls there. That includes both emergency treatment and transport. Its recent funding request was separate from that agreement.
“I think originally, this agreement was meant to start dialogue with the town,” said Kroll, who started working for the town in 2016. “They’re not in financial trouble where they’re not paying their bills. I think they’re having challenges with getting people to provide that service. They’re a volunteer agency, and it’s hard to attract health care professionals and paramedics to come and work under their current setup. I think they do the best they can with what they have.”
The licensed ambulance service has multiple vehicles and providers trained up to the paramedic level. It makes about 900 calls a year and has 30 members, according to its website. It provides emergency care and transport in Hermon, Etna and Stetson, along with transfers and mutual aid to other communities in the Bangor region.
The funding proposal has at least some support from the Town Council. Councilor Steven Thomas, who has been a vocal supporter of the service, spoke in favor of it during Thursday night’s meeting.
But it’s not clear if a majority of councilors would approve the $210,240 funding proposal in next year’s budget, or if voters would then approve it at the annual town meeting on June 13.
One resident, Bill Scott, said Thursday night that it would be “a slippery slope” for the town to “start supporting private business,” prompting other residents to counter that the ambulance service is not the same as a business because it does not try to make a profit.
And three members of the Town Council were not present at the meeting, including Vice Chairman Doug Sinclair Sr. At a council meeting on April 11, Sinclair confronted a resident, Tony Reynolds, who had accused him of lying during previous conversations about the ambulance service.
Sinclair made what multiple observers said was a threat to knock Reynolds’ teeth out. After Reynolds told him, “You are a liar,” Sinclair responded, “Call me a liar, you might be buying some new teeth,” according to a video of the meeting and people who heard the interaction.
Sinclair has not responded to messages seeking comment.
Reynolds and others have become frustrated that the Town Council has held multiple closed-door meetings to discuss the ambulance service, keeping the public in the dark about what has been discussed during the executive sessions.
At one point on Thursday, another resident, Deborah Farnham, asked Council Chairman Tim McCluskey whether the council would discuss the ambulance service in open session at its next meeting on May 9.
“Can we have a promise it won’t move into executive session?” Farnham asked.
“Yes,” McCluskey said.
Related: Hermon Town Council meeting: ‘Are you going to call people liars?’