BRATTLEBORO — The town selectboard reorganized itself Monday night, with two new members, a new vice chair, a new clerk — and a new call from taxpayers for a say in the future of emergency medical services and related American Rescue Plan Act spending.
“The process should be transparent and equitable, and should build in accountability for responding to the public will,” said resident Paula Melton, reading from an advisory article about ARPA decision-making Town Meeting approved Saturday along with a similar one on EMS.
The question that awaits a future answer: Are local leaders ready to listen?
A year ago, Town Meeting representatives approved a budget that residents expected would extend a nearly six-decade agreement with the private nonprofit Rescue Inc., the region’s largest and longest-serving ambulance provider. But just a month later, the selectboard surprised all by unanimously approving a fire department takeover for emergency medical services with little public notice or debate.
Leaders still haven’t shared any of the facts or figures that led them to approve the change, which they claimed would reap up to $700,000 in insurance revenue but actually could wind up costing taxpayers almost that much annually, according to a feasibility study commissioned after the switch.
Last week, the outgoing selectboard set aside $1.75 million of the town’s remaining $2.7 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for potential EMS startup costs.
Enter this year’s Town Meeting, at which residents adopted two nonbinding resolutions calling for a public decision-making process for both ambulance coverage and related ARPA spending.
“I think we all need to have confidence in what is going to happen,” resident George Carvill told 150 fellow meeting representatives who, unlike in other Vermont municipalities, are elected.
In response, the selectboard met Monday to swear in new members Peter “Fish” Case and Franz Reichsman, both of whom campaigned for more public participation in the EMS selection process, and incumbent Elizabeth McLoughlin, who narrowly retained her seat by 85 votes out of the nearly 2,000 cast.
The selectboard reelected its incumbent chair, Ian Goodnow, who’ll serve alongside new members Reichsman as vice chair and Case as clerk.
“The board has a lot to think about and unpack from Town Meeting,” Goodnow said. “There’s going to be lots of discussion as we move forward.”
The board plans to follow a recommendation from new Town Manager John Potter and wait until further study this spring and summer before making a final EMS decision this fall.
“To understand the advantages and disadvantages of each of the primary long-range EMS solutions, a considerable amount of financial and operational analysis is needed,” Potter wrote in a memo to the board.
In the meantime, the town plans to extend its current contract with Golden Cross Ambulance of Claremont, New Hampshire, which has helped the fire department respond to calls since the selectboard dropped Rescue last June.
Local leaders say they hope to choose a long-term solution this September for consideration at Town Meeting next March and implementation by the following July.
“I know that the people continuing on this board are interested in moving forward,” selectboard member Daniel Quipp said over the weekend, “and what we’ve committed to is an open public process.”
Clarification: An earlier version of this story imprecisely described Paula Melton's advisory article.
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