Roundabout approved for March ballot (1/28/10)

Board rejects vote on new ambulance service

Jan. 28, 2010

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Residents will get to vote on a proposed roundabout but not on a new ambulance service.

A divided Selectboard on Monday decided to put the much-debated roundabout, planned for the intersection where U.S. 2 meets North Williston and Oak Hill roads, on the March ballot. Board members ruled out including the ambulance service on the ballot, opting instead to place the expenditure — and projected offsetting revenue — in the annual operating budget.

About a dozen residents attended Monday’s meeting. Several expressed pointed opinions on the roundabout and ambulance issues.

Luz Muller said a large number of voters signed a petition asking for the roundabout to be put on the ballot.

“What I’ve got to believe is you are choosing to ignore this and I want to know why,” he said.

Board Chairman Terry Macaig said an attorney advised the town to debate the roundabout at Town Meeting rather than decide it by Australian ballot. The roundabout would be funded with federal dollars, and state and federal officials have the final say on its construction.

Because any local vote would be strictly advisory, law suggests the roundabout issue must be decided at Town Meeting, Macaig said. Doing otherwise could invite a lawsuit, although he noted that the attorney said legal action was unlikely because the vote would be non-binding.

On the ambulance issue, some residents wondered why the expenditure was in the budget this time when the proposal was previously on the ballot. Voters rejected bonds to pay for new ambulances in 2007.

But Williston Woods resident Mary Carlson said the board should budget for the ambulance service. She said it would speed emergency responses and pay for itself with fees paid by insurance companies.

A majority of the board favored including the ambulance service in the operating budget. Board member Ted Kenney said leasing rather than bonding for the ambulances would allow the town to cancel the service should it prove too costly.

“If it doesn’t work out in two years, we can get out of it,” he said.

But Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs dissented, asserting voters should have a say.

“It’s a new service, we’re buying equipment, we’re hiring staff,” he said. “It can and should grow with time. I just think voters need to weigh in on that.”