Ambulance questions reign at Town Meeting (3/4/10)

March 4, 2010

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Despite few items up for vote on Monday night’s agenda, Williston’s annual Town Meeting drew a large crowd. Approximately 150 residents turned out to hear presentations on town and school budgets, as well as gain more information on a proposed rescue service and roundabout.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Town Moderator Tony Lamb (right) discusses ballot items at Town Meeting on Monday night as School Board and Selectboard members listen.

Monday’s meeting provided a final forum for town officials and firefighters to plead their case for an ambulance service that some people believe is unnecessary. Included within the municipal budget, the $231,910 service started a debate among residents in recent weeks. In previous public forums, some residents threatened to vote against the $7.7 million municipal budget in protest of the ambulance service.

During the meeting, some voters remained adamant that the service should have been put to vote as a separate ballot item.

“It could be the poison pill that sinks the budget,” resident Will Workman said.

As part of the municipal budget presentation, Town Manager Rick McGuire decided to have a little fun with the audience. He engaged the crowd in a game of Jeopardy, providing answers and asking residents to guess the correct question. Topics ranged from town expenditures to tax increases.

But McGuire spent most of the time discussing the ambulance service and how it might jeopardize the budget. He explained the service could bring as much as $28,000 in revenue to the town; the Selectboard has already worked that figure into the budget for next year. He said the additional money would go into Williston’s general fund to be used on town projects.

The fire department hopes to start an ambulance service in July. Fire Chief Ken Morton has long argued that Williston needs its own service to ensure better safety and quicker response times to emergencies. Currently, St. Michael’s College Fire & Rescue responds to most emergency calls in town.

Under the new Williston service, the town will lease an ambulance and buy a used one, as well as hire two EMTs over the next year.

McGuire, speaking in support of what he believes will be a successful service, said he hoped residents would see the need and approve the municipal budget. His presentation seemed to sway at least one voter. Resident Jeffrey Haslett said he did not support the ambulance until he saw the possibility of it generating revenue.

“Seeing the numbers they have, I’ve switched over to supporting it,” Haslett told the Observer after the meeting.

Resident Cathy Yandow said publicly she backed the creation of the rescue squad.

“I’m supportive of the fact you want us to have an ambulance,” Yandow said.

McGuire also gave a detailed presentation regarding the roundabout ballot item. While he believed most residents had already made up their minds on whether they want a roundabout at the intersection of U.S. 2 and Oak Hill and North Williston roads, he wanted to dispel some myths and provide facts.

Voters also heard presentations on school budgets for the Williston School District and Champlain Valley Union High School. Williston School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth fielded a few questions pertaining to details of the district’s $16.5 million budget, including the state of teacher contract negotiations.

The Chittenden South Supervisory Union negotiating team said two weeks ago it had reached an impasse with the teachers union over contracts. The CSSU negotiators are asking teachers to accept a one-year contract that includes a pay freeze and bumps contributions to their health care premiums from 12 percent to 20 percent.

“We felt this was important information for you to have before you go and vote tomorrow,” Worth said.

CVU School Board Chairwoman Jeanne Jensen presented the high school’s $21.4 million budget, paid for by residents in Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne and Williston. She also praised the hard work and dedication of longtime board member Meg Hart-Smith, who is not seeking reelection.

“She’s going to be very, very much missed by me and the rest of the board,” Jensen said.