New Tri-Town ambulance headquarters debated

Will Aquinnah, Chilmark, West Tisbury divide $2 million evenly?

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Tri-Town Ambulance Chief Ben Retmier pitches a new headquarters for the ambulance service. — Rich Saltzberg

Tri-Town Ambulance hopes Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury will divide the construction costs for a new $2 million Tri-Town Ambulance headquarters into thirds, to be paid by each respective town, and thereafter divide the upkeep of that facility by thirds too. The three up-Island towns run Tri-Town Ambulance jointly, and divide the operational costs of the ambulance service equally. Each town has a Tri-Town Ambulance stationed at its fire station, with West Tisbury’s Fire Station No. 2 serving as the current headquarters for the ambulance service. 

The Tri-Town Ambulance Committee has approved a three-way division of construction costs for the headquarters, and now, if the idea is to come to fruition, the three towns must agree to provide the money. Chilmark has offered to cover the cost of design and architectural services for the facility, as well as footing the bill for an owner’s project manager. The new headquarters will be built on a portion of land Chilmark acquired to site a new fire station. This land is being offered by Chilmark at no cost to Tri-Town Ambulance and the other two towns. The land is off Middle Road, behind Chilmark Town Hall. Among the features of the proposed headquarters would be bunkrooms so paramedics and EMTs can rest before, after, or in between shifts. 

Tri-Town Ambulance Chief Ben Retmier told those gathered at West Tisbury Fire Station No. 2 for a meeting of the Tri-Town Ambulance Committee Wednesday night that the ambulance service he leads is growing, and needs room to do so.

“This facility would allow us to grow and stay regional, and provide the best care that we can to the three up-Island towns,” he said. 

Tri-Town Ambulance Committee member Warren Doty, chairman of Chilmark selectmen, told the audience Tri-Town Ambulance does about 400 runs per year, but insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid reimbursements don’t cover the cost of running the ambulance service, so the three towns take up the slack. 

“We’ve done it evenly, one-third, one-third, one-third, for all these years,” he said. To address the debt service for the new building, following that formula, would make for a “significant increase” in each town’s Tri-Town budget. 

Doty was flanked by fellow Tri-Town Ambulance Committee member Cynthia Mitchell, a West Tisbury selectman, and all the other Chilmark and West Tisbury selectmen. However, no Aquinnah selectmen attended the meeting.

Asked why the next day, Aquinnah selectman Julie Vanderhoop said all the Aquinnah selectmen had previous commitments, and therefore sent Aquinnah finance committee chairman Allen Rugg to speak on the town’s behalf. 

Selectman Bill Rossi, who is on the building committee for both Chilmark’s new fire station and for the new Tri-Town headquarters, said he wanted a settled deal so his committee does not waste time on architectural plans and budgeting, because Chilmark is footing the bill. Whatever the towns decide will affect the size of the building, Rossi said. 

 

West Tisbury town accountant Bruce Stone said that historically, each town has housed its own Tri-Town Ambulance, and absorbed the costs of doing so outside the Tri-Town budget. 

“For example, in this building,” he said, “there’s a section for the ambulance, and West Tisbury completely paid for the cost of this building and the annual operating costs for this building.”

Stone went on to say, “This is a new concept. So you’re going to starting from scratch here to come up with a solution.”

“That is absolutely correct,” Doty said. “Each town has paid for housing their own ambulance, and the unusual cost is the cost of administration, which has offices and facilities here. And we haven’t paid any rent for that …”

Doty went on to say there was a measure of fairness at play regarding costs outside the Tri-Town budget. For instance, he noted that while the administrative leg of the ambulance service does not pay rent in West Tisbury, Chilmark does all the accounting for Tri-Town Ambulance without charging for the service. 

Nevertheless, West Tisbury finance committee member Gary Montrowl asked how West Tisbury would be compensated for all the years Tri-Town Ambulance has been headquartered in a West Tisbury building. 

“We haven’t discussed that,” Doty said and reiterated Chilmark has absorbed without compensation other costs associated with Tri-Town Ambulance, including retirement costs. He said he was willing to break down the numbers if requested to do so. But touching on what he believed Stone was getting at previously, Doty said if Chilmark houses its ambulance in the new headquarters, a jointly owned facility, while Aquinnah and West Tisbury continue to house ambulances in facilities they solely own, “then how do we arrange that accounting?”

West Tisbury finance committee member Doug Ruskin suggested the costs associated with housing ambulances and personnel in Aquinnah and West Tisbury should be subtracted from what those towns pay toward the new headquarters, or perhaps to figure out a rental scheme for hosting those ambulances and their crews. Ruskin liked the idea of Tri-Town owning the building and renting the land the building sits on for a token figure from Chilmark. West Tisbury selectmen chairman Skipper Manter said, much to his own surprise, he could support the one-third, one-third, one-third concept. His opinion was galvanized with the realization that either by direct town ownership or through a business entity, West Tisbury would have a one-third equity share in the new building. 

Over the course of an hour, the basic concept of the building was established, with the hope each town’s finance committee could further discuss and analyze the concept, with an eye toward potentially backing it when town meeting season next arrives. 

2 COMMENTS

  1. Amazing concept of 1/3 ownership. Why can’t you see it the same way for the regional high school? As I have said before, it really is that simple. Or maybe you should do it on the number of houses per town, or on the census. Now roll up your sleeves, get this done and the capital expense side of the high school so we can all stop reading about it.

  2. I think the Aquinnah taxpayers should question why they pay 1/3 of a service they don’t use or even get. The Aquinnah station is always the first to be unstaffed when there is a shortage of personnel or a call for another town. Always personnel in WT though. Doesn’t seem right.

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