Tri-Town ambulance budget calls for new hires, big budget jump

During a joint meeting with selectmen February 14, the Chilmark finance advisory committee reviewed a revised budget for the Tri-Town ambulance that calls for the addition of two full-time paramedics and additional money for night-shift EMTs.

The Tri-Town ambulance committee’s first proposed budget for fiscal 2012 called for four new full-time positions, two for 30 hours and two for 40 hours, that would have increased spending 60.8 percent, from $452,995 to $728,415.

But the ambulance committee has revised the plan and now wants two salaried positions instead of four; one for 40 hours a week, at a salary of $42,532; one for 30 hours a week, for $31,899.

The newer version of the budget would still increase net spending by 41.7 percent, from $452,995 to $641,735. Under the plan, the assessments to the three up-Island towns would increase 53.7 percent, from $104,268 to $160,278.

The Tri-Town ambulance is currently moving from a largely volunteer force to a professional service, largely to meet a state requirement that the town have paramedics on duty around the clock.

Aquinnah police chief and ambulance committee member Rhandi Belain said during the meeting that the revised budget would ensure a paramedic was on duty during all day shifts, while volunteer EMTs would cover most of the overnight shifts from 6 pm to 8 am.

“Right now we have the staff to cover the shifts, but hiring someone full-time means they are accountable. We have volunteers to take shifts, but we have to ask them if they want to pick up a shift,” he said.

Chilmark police Chief Brian Cioffi, also a member of the ambulance committee, said times have changed and it is difficult to maintain a volunteer ambulance squad. “The volunteer aspect we’ve had the past 30 years is not the same volunteer aspect we have today,” he said.

“With tough economic times, people just can’t leave their job sites and go on an ambulance run and give up those hours of pay. What we are looking to do is hire employees, so we know that when the call comes in, that ambulance is ready to go out the door,” he added.

The finance advisory committee did not make any changes to the Tri-Town ambulance budget, and almost all the comments were positive.

“It’s been tough getting this together and a challenge because we are changing so many things. But if you look at the numbers, the biggest increase in spending are these paramedics, and they are important. It’s the right thing to do and the right time to do it,” selectman Jonathan Mayhew said.