On Tuesday, Nov. 3, the town of Hinesburg voted in favor of operating its own ambulance service in the wake of St. Michael’s college discontinuing its free service, effective July 2021.
1,911 residents voted in favor of the ambulance service, and 1,030 voted against. The alternative to a Hinesburg-run ambulance service would have been contracting out from the surrounding towns; both Charlotte and Richmond sent out contracting proposals.
“I am surprised by the ambulance vote, because it’s also a lot of money, and these are very uncertain times,” said select board member Merrily Lovell. She added, “That’s what the people of the town want. That’s wonderful. And it’s wonderful that the fire department has done so much hard work to make that a possibility. We’ll work with the numbers.”
“I was pleased it passed,” said assistant fire chief Eric Spivack. In terms of next steps, he said, “we’ll move towards what the voters want. We’ll start putting together for the ambulance service, move towards that direction.”
Hinesburg residents Terry Wilson and Nancy Anisfield offered to donate the ambulance itself, according to the Hinesburg fire department website and select board meeting minutes. According to the website, the ambulance is one of the “two biggest expenses to starting an ambulance service.”
The ambulance service will be staffed by a new full-time EMS person during the day, and the regular fire department staff at night, said Spivak in an interview on Oct. 1.
The most recent budget, which was updated on Oct. 9 and is available on the fire department website’s home page, has the cost of running the service at $186,315.80 in the current fiscal year, which is Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 2022. The budget hovers between $180,000 and $205,000 for fiscal years 2023, 2024, and 2025, then increases to $322,306.63 in fiscal year 2026.
“We’ll be working with the select board to move forward to the next steps,” Spivack said. The select board and the fire department will work together to put together a final budget, said Lovell.
There has been some dissent, on front porch forum and in public comments, regarding how expensive it would be to run this service.
In the Oct. 1 interview, Spivack said that there are advantages to running a town ambulance service, such as quicker response time and revenues.
The town will set the budget for the ambulance service on Oct. 14 said Fire Chief Al Barber. The town has another opportunity in March at Town Meeting to vote down the budget if they find it too expensive, he said.
Lovell said she was unsure what would happen if the town rejected the budget at that point. In the past, “big projects that the voters didn’t approve for the money for them, people went back to the drawing boards and came back with a new proposal, that didn’t cost as much. So maybe that could be a possibility,” she said. The other possibility could be returning to the idea of contracting out.
“Optimistically by mid-summer, we should be able to start operating,” Spivack said.
The Community News Service is a project of the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.