Editorial : The right move
The Chilmark selectmen moved wisely and swiftly this week to add some outside influence to the decision making by the Tri-Town Ambulance committee. It is remarkable and disappointing that finance committee members in the three towns and selectmen in two of the towns, despite expressions of concern when they learned of the Tri-Town committee's decision to use the largest part of $20,000 in surplus FY2009 money to reward EMTs for their service, have done nothing to review the decision.
Of course, the issue has nothing to do with the value of the services performed by the Tri-Town EMTs, which is beyond all attempts to match with compensation, no matter how generous. Indeed, the selflessness of the service defeats any attempt to place a financial value on it. And the decision to seat J.B.Riggs Parker on the ambulance committee rather than reappoint Mary Boyd does not reflect on her exemplary service, as the selectmen made clear.
The issue is the tone-deaf decision of the committee to use surplus funds without consulting with town finance committees or town selectmen who almost certainly would have blessed the plan to use the money left over in the incentive account.
As selectman Frank Fenner said, describing his reaction to news of the committee's decision, ""I was stunned and very concerned over the process used to disburse funds all of a sudden, at a time when the selectmen and the finance committee worked as hard as they possibly could all winter long to save dollars, or nickels, and whatever we could off the budgets. To see $20,000 go up like this is a little stunning to me. It would be in the best interest of the town to have a selectman keep an eye on it."
Stunning also was the fact that some of the committee members who approved the disbursements were also recipients of the added incentive payments. By itself, the obvious conflict ought to have alerted committee members to the need to approach the matter in a consultative manner.
"It's time to do it differently," Mr. Parker said, explaining his own dissatisfaction with the way the decision was made. "This is a big department now, a big part of our budget." The Tri-Town budget is funded in part by payments from the three towns, totaling nearly $285,000. The committee's decision follows on the efforts of all six Island towns to cut spending, department by department, and ask department heads to return authorized but unspent funds to the general treasuries, to make up for expected shortfalls in revenues.
Of the three Chilmark selectmen who attended the ambulance committee's June 22 meeting, only Warren Doty expressed satisfaction with the committee's decision. "I left the meeting comfortable that the money was spent," Mr. Doty said this week. "To make a decision that you would take money that was already appropriated inside the EMT incentive pay and give EMTs $20 per run, for runs that they made during the fiscal year, it made sense. It's still extremely low pay. I don't think it's largesse in any way."