Aquinnah opts in to new Tri-Town Ambulance building

Selectmen agree to one-third cost-sharing formula between three up-Island towns.

Town administrator Jeff Madison and selectman Juli Vanderhoop at Tuesday's meeting. - Lucas Thors

Aquinnah selectmen unanimously agreed to pay the town’s one-third share of a new $2 million Tri-Town Ambulance headquarters, to be built in Chilmark.

At Tuesday’s selectmen meeting, Aquinnah Police Chief Randhi Belain said ambulance response times to Aquinnah are dangerously long, especially for a time-sensitive emergency, like a heart attack.

In the off-season, Aquinnah’s designated Tri-Town Ambulance is rarely posted at the Aquinnah fire station, but instead is situated at ambulance headquarters in West Tisbury, Belain said. 

“Sometimes, [EMTs] are next-door here, sometimes they are not. The majority of time in the off-season, they are not stationed here in Aquinnah,” Belain said. “Chilmark would be centrally located; it would help Aquinnah by cutting response times in half, easily.”

Selectman Jim Newman said Chilmark has hired engineers, architects, and an owner’s project manager, for which they will foot the bill.

Newman said if the town does not agree to fund its share of construction costs, ambulances will still come from West Tisbury to respond to emergencies in Aquinnah.

Newman mentioned a recent incident at Philbin Beach where police and emergency response teams had to work fast to resuscitate a man who was having a heart attack. He said situations like this demand rapid response, and the outcome can be dependent on a matter of minutes. 

“I have heard a lot of people complain about call time. This will raise what we pay to Tri-Town, but we can’t afford to have our own ambulance service,” Newman said. “I think it’s essential we support this. The health and welfare of our community is paramount.”

Newman said Aquinnah would have to pay about $65,000 for their share of the construction.

“I think it’s worth it to have fast and reliable ambulance service,” Newman said. 

Assessing the situation

Aquinnah selectmen appointed Harold Scheid of Regional Resource Group (RRG), the town’s hired assessing firm, to the board of assessors.

Aquinnah town administrator Jeff Madison said he contacted the Department of Revenue (DOR) and asked about any restrictions barring selectmen from appointing a hired assessor to the board. 

Madison said the DOR reported no such restrictions, and as long as the town’s charter is free of those restrictions, the appointment is acceptable. “Since we don’t even have a charter, that was an easy question to answer,” Madison said.

Madison said Scheid sits on a number of boards in communities where his company does assessing work. 

He noted that one of the other assessors, either Kayla Manning or Howard Goldstein, must complete the Assessing 101 course before this year’s classification hearing. 

Scheid said his employees have started touring the town, following up on building permits, and reviewing new taxable properties. “Believe it or not, people are happy to see the tax guy,” Scheid said. 

Scheid said now is an important time of year because assessment work is wrapping up ahead of the classification hearing.

“That’s the last step before we set a tax rate and issue tax bills, which come out in January,” Scheid said.

Selectman Gary Haley mentioned the effectiveness of the Telepresence portal situated in the lobby of the town hall. “People have really been using that monitor a lot; it seems to be working well,” Haley said.

Scheid said he anticipates even more usage of the Telepresence portal as tax bills come out.

He also said RRG is planning on rolling out new technology within the next half-year where people will be able to access assessors from the company directly from their home or business computers. “It makes connecting with a professional from our office even easier, for people who are far away from the town hall or can’t drive here,” Scheid said.