Panel takes issue with ambulance service direction

WILTON – Everyone agreed that the dedicated volunteers who staff the Wilton-Lyndeborough-Temple Ambulance Service are great people who do a wonderful job, but on Tuesday, the combined budget committees of Wilton and Lyndeborough found little good to say about the service’s board of directors.

Committee members took issue with the board’s lack of cooperation in providing information about budgets, costs and accounting systems, a situation that has been ongoing for several years. Members said they would like to see several changes made before Town Meeting.

Toward the end of the meeting, after the ambulance representatives had left the room, Lyndeborough Selectman Lorraine Strube made two proposals, which she said came out of joint meetings of the towns’ boards of selectmen.

“The whole sum and total is the selectmen feel there is a real lack of communication between selectmen and the directors. We don’t get any answers. We get these sheets (of figures) but they are just guesswork. We are not very happy,” she added. “That is no reflection on the ambulance service, they are fantastic, but with the directors’ housekeeping, their bookkeeping.”

Lyndeborough committee member Jim Button called it “like watching the same movie every year. No one ever seems to know how much money they have.”

The budget was presented to the committee at the start of the meeting by Paul Jordan, a new service director from Temple.

The projected budget of $174,110 is up about $20,000 to cover a deficit from 2003. The deficit is mainly in the budget line for paramedic coverage, but the committee was not satisfied with the explanations, which tended to be a little vague, they said. There were also increases in training costs, service director Carylyn McEntee said, because “we had a lot of new members.”

The ambulance building on Route 31 north also needs a new furnace, at a cost of $4,000, according to McEntee. “The old one just died.”

Jordan said the service was “trying to get more aggressive in collecting from insurance companies who typically wait 60 to 90 days” before paying claims. He noted that the cost of the service “figured out to between $9 and $10 per person per town.”

The cost of paramedics is up because “there is coverage 24/7. I cover about 60 hours a week. We thought paramedics could volunteer some of their time, but they can’t,” McEntee said.

Wilton committee Chairman Cary Hughes said he thought the service was volunteer.

About 75 percent of the coverage is volunteer, McEntee said, but not the paramedics. “We pay them $10 an hour to be on call.”

Hughes said he was shocked that people were paid to be on call, and asked how that had happened.

McEntee said it was because other towns pay their paramedics, forcing Wilton to do the same.

Fellow service director Jim McEntee of Lyndeborough blamed “a town to the east that decided to pay paramedics and that set a precedent. It is hard to get anyone to volunteer. That town pays $12 an hour. Paramedics are in very high demand and they can pick and choose.”

The combined budget committee asked for “complete figures by Monday.”

Later in the evening, the committees returned to the ambulance question, a situation Hughes described as “very strange.”

Wilton committee member David Tierney said, “We are in the same boat (with this issue) every year. Is there any way the three town selectmen could get together and say, this is what is going to happen?”

Wilton Selectman Stuart Draper said, “We can only do it through funding. Say, if this doesn’t happen, we give you no funds.”

Strube added, “We are working toward that. These are really hot issues. They’ve had their meetings and didn’t get back to us. We have to be firm. It is year after year. If we don’t have the facts and figures, it becomes an emotional issue. We keep insisting it isn’t a lack of service.”

Tierney said the issue had to be solved before Town Meeting. “If it goes to the floor at Town Meeting, the people will vote them what they want,” as they have in past years when the ambulance directors did not provide the figures the Budget Committee requested.

Ambulance volunteer Tom Schultz was in the audience and said he had attended the most recent meeting of the board of directors. Asked if they had discussed Strube’s proposal, he said no. He asked the committees to keep one thing in mind. “Remember there are two separate entities, the service and the board of directors, who are supposed to be responsible to you.”

Jessie Salisbury can be reached at 654-9704 or