Phillipston voters will be asked to borrow $360K for a new ambulance at Annual Town Meeting

  • Phillipston's Selectboard approved the final version of the warrant for the Annual Town Meeting on May 4. Included is an article to borrow 360,000 for a new ambulance. Left to right: Board Chair Bernie Malouin, Vice Chair Gerhard Fandreyer, Clerk Thom Daoust. Staff Photo/Greg Vine

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 4/26/2022 11:14:59 AM
Modified: 4/26/2022 11:13:30 AM

PHILLIPSTON — At its meeting on Wednesday, April 20, Phillipston’s Selectboard put its final stamp of approval on the warrant for the May 4 Annual Town Meeting. Voters will be faced with a total of 30 articles, including a request to borrow $360,000 for the purchase of a new ambulance.

In February, Fire Chief Jeff Parker informed the board that the town’s current ambulance, which is more than a decade old, is in need of extensive repair. At the time, the board weighed the feasibility of replacing the engine and leasing another ambulance during the time it would take to see that job completed. It was also suggested the town ask Athol to provide ambulance service until Phillipston’s vehicle could be fixed. Since then, however, the department has managed to keep the vehicle in operation.

In the interim, town officials have been working on finding an avenue for repaying the money Phillipston would need to borrow to purchase a new ambulance.

“So, as the article is written,” board member Thom Daoust queried, “we would be voting to fund the purchase of the ambulance, and then if we don’t get (a grant) we’ve got to find $360,000 to transfer from other funds at the end of the year?”

“We can borrow from within other accounts,” board Chair Bernie Malouin responded, “anticipating that we’re going to get that funding back. We’ve already got the grant, technically.

“So, we’ve got $360,000 earmarked for this. (The state) won’t give us the $360,000 until we buy the ambulance. That’s what happens. We’ve got to figure a way to buy the ambulance, get paid for it, and then they’ll reimburse us.”

Malouin then explained the reasoning behind placing an article on the warrant.

“We found out that we probably can’t do repairs,” he said. “There might be some special act or something where we find out we can, but right now we’re under the assumption we can’t. The head of Fire Services, who’s handling the grant for the ambulance — I believe it goes to them — and then it comes to the town once the town purchases the ambulance.”

Malouin said the town just found out recently that the town had to purchase the vehicle before it would be reimbursed by the state.

“Where are we going to get $360 grand?” he asked. “We’re a small community. If it were Worcester or Boston — no problem.

“My thinking was, get it on the warrant and then we’ve got a few more weeks before Town Meeting. We can make amendments on the Town Meeting floor. We can reject it, if we think it’s not a good thing for Phillipston, you know, because of the complications with it. But at least it gives us a little bit of time. Had we not put it on the warrant, we wouldn’t have anywhere to go.”

Finance Committee Chair Tom Specht said, “I think we should take the money out of stabilization, and we have more than enough there, with the understanding that when we get the money back from the state, that it goes directly into stabilization to replace the money that was taken out. That’s the only way we could get that kind of money.”

It was suggested the article printed in the warrant could be amended to specify the money be taken from the town’s stabilization account, which would require a two-thirds vote of those attending the Town Meeting.

It was pointed out that any reimbursement of the state would likely be deposited into the general fund. Transferring that money back to the stabilization account would require approval at a Special Town Meeting.

Asked about which state program the reimbursement would come from, Malouin said the monies tracks back to the 2021 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“This was an additional amount of (CARES Act) money that was not used by communities,” said Malouin. “The state has the money. The state said, ‘Is there anything that communities need to cover that hasn’t been covered?’ So, they said it’s earmarked.”

Interim Administrative Assistant Melanie Jackson interjected to say the funds will actually come from ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds that have thus far gone unused, adding that the money is earmarked through the Department of Fire Services.

Malouin added that the ARPA was targeted for the town even before the problems with the ambulance arose.

The Annual Town Meeting will take place on Wednesday, May 4, at 7 p.m. at Phillipston Memorial Elementary School.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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