PUTNEY -- Putney voters added $22,000 to the town's General Fund Budget to convince the Selectboard to retain the services of Rescue Inc.
The board wrote its budget with enough money to fund an annual contract with Golden Cross Ambulance Service.
It wanted to change its service from Rescue Inc. after working with the nonprofit organization for almost 50 years.
But after almost an hour of debate, Tuesday, voters agreed to add the money back in to the budget to suggest that the board sign another one year contract with Rescue Inc.
About 130 people came out Tuesday to take part in Putney's Town Meeting.
Representatives from the two organizations talked about the services they provide and the number of ambulances available.
Rescue Inc. staff member Lew Teich said the organization has been trying to reduce its budget.
"When Putney came back and said they could get their ambulance service from somebody else, it was a rude awakening," said Teich. "But even going back before that we were taking a good, hard look at the services we offer."
Golden Cross Ambulance owner Dale Girard said that he did not ask Putney for the business, but was instead asked to enter a bid for the service.
Putney resident Leonard Howard, who works for the Brattleboro Fire Department, said the two organizations were similar.
"It's a lot of money for the same service," he said.
But Burt Tepfer, a cardiologist, said if the town made a change it would weaken Rescue, and the regional ambulance services.
Putney Fire Chief Tom Godard reiterated his support for the proposed change, saying he looked at both services and decided the slight differences were not worth the $22,000 cost gap.
"There is no issue with the service provided," Goddard said.
Many of the comments made during the discussion addressed the town's long-standing relationship with Rescue, and many Putney residents talked about their first-hand experience with Rescue Inc.
Craig Goldberg, a Brattleboro physician, said both organizations were well respected, but he said Rescue offered a higher level of care.
"It's not always easy to see the difference when you look at the numbers," Goldberg said. "If I needed an ambulance service to come to me or my family, I would want it to be Rescue. The quality Rescue has is something Rescue has earned over a period of time."
In the end, Putney overwhelmingly supported the amendment to add $22,000 to the budget to retain Rescue Inc.
After the long ambulance service discussion, the $1.89 million budget passed with little debate.
Putney voters also approved the $3.68 million school budget.
Putney School Board Chairwoman Alice Laughlin said that while spending was up less than 1 percent, the state's educational funding formula forced the tax rate up by more than 23 cents, or about 14 percent.
Laughlin said a decrease in tuitioning middle school students, a drop in the number of students and a decrease other state and federal grants increased the tax rate even though spending was about level.
The town also approved moving $100,000 out of the school district's unreserved 2013 fund balance to defray taxes in 2015.
There is about $15,000 left in the fund.
The Selectboard made a surprise announcement about the ongoing problems with the fire station roof, which was improperly installed and needs to be completely redone.
The board was seeking $40,000 to fix the six-year-old roof, but Selectboard Chairman Josh Laughlin said the lowest bid came in at about $21,000, which Laughlin said the town would be able to take out of the general fund.
The Putney Town Library is now a municipal library, after Town Meeting voters agreed to have the town take over its administration.
The library has been run by a Board of Trustees, and will continue to be, but the town will now handle payroll and other administrative duties.
There will be few noticeable changes at the library, Director Stephen Coronella said.
The town will refurbish one the fire department's trucks after voters agreed to spend $184,500 to work on the 1994 E-One Pumper, Engine #2.
Putney Fire Chief Tom Goddard said a new truck would cost up to $400,000
Residents will pay off the truck for the next 10 years.
Town Hall will get a new paint job after voters agreed to use up to $25,000 of surplus funds on the building.
A request for $8,000 from Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies was approved.
Voters also approved a matching grant of $137,500 to pay for the new sidewalk proposed to go from the Putney General Store to Landmark College.
The college and VTrans will cover the rest of the project costs, or about 80 percent of the work.
Putney residents agreed to exempt Landmark College from paying taxes on a new parcel of land the college bought last year.
Landmark purchased about 3 acres of land on River Road South in September 2013 and wants to use it as a practice field for its sports program.
The school had been renting the land and using the field for practice, but purchased the land last year.
The land is assessed at $85,900 and generates $1,764 in educational and municipal taxes.
Landmark currently holds about $22 million in property in Putney, the town's lister said.
Landmark College President Peter Eden said the college pays $32,000 in an annual payment in lieu of taxes to Putney.
Putney residents, who are asked to renew tax exempt decisions every five years, also agreed to exempt Yellow Barn Music School from improvements it made to music studios on the Greenwood School campus.
A third article to exempt the owners of alternative energy sources from paying property taxes passed after a long conversation.
Before the business part of Putney's Town Meeting even started, three of the town's four state legislators were grilled about the ongoing challenge of bringing high speed Internet service to all of Vermont.
John Field said about 300 Putney residents still don't have high speed service.
Field said Gov. Peter Shumlin came to Putney's Town Meeting last year, promising to deliver service, and the promise has been broken.
Rep. Michael Mrowicki said he understood the issue and was working with the governor to address it.
The discussion strayed into an ongoing battle by some Putney residents to keep a cell tower out of their neighborhood.
Pamela Cubbage said some Putney residents were very frustrated with the state policy that keeps local zoning boards out of the decision making process in siting cell towers.
Rep. Michael Mrowicki said Act 248, which regulates cell tower rules, is expiring next year and local residents should be involved in legislating the new rules.
Sen. Jeanette White also talked about the challenge of providing cell service while addressing local zoning concerns.
It took almost an hour for Putney to get to its first article on the Town Meeting Warning.
Pat Shields was named Putney Citizen of the Year and recognized for her work with the Putney Mountain Association.
Putney voters signed on to a state wide nonbinding article to ask the Legislature to look into starting a public bank.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.