PUTNEY -- As the Selectboard moves ahead with finalizing its proposed 2015 budget, the board is considering all options while trying to reduce emergency services costs. And the town's long standing relationship with Rescue Inc. is one of the services that is being looked at.
Rescue Inc. interim Chief Drew Hazelton came to the Dec. 18 meeting to try to convince the board that Putney would be best served by sticking with his company.
"As we go into budget season the question for us is, 'Is Rescue the right choice for us,'" said Selectboard Chairman Josh Laughlin at the meeting. "We obviously have a long history with Rescue, both personal and professional, but financially it would appear that there are other options that are more economically advantageous for us."
Hazelton said Rescue Inc. has been serving Putney for 47 years. He said the nonprofit maintains a full fleet and staff and Putney residents always have access to a vehicle when there is a need. He said there have been 20 runs from out of Putney to medical centers outside of the region such as Boston or Dartmouth, N.H.
Laughlin said Rescue was more expensive than other comparable services.
"Why is it worth it to us to pay Rescue more than we would pay somebody else?" Laughlin asked Hazelton.
Hazelton said the resources available, such as the ability to send three ambulances at one time if needed with extra staff, exceed those that another company can provide.
Selectboard member Scott Henry said that while the town was satisfied with Rescue's service over the years there have been indications about the organization's financial stability.
"We're pretty clear on the services Rescue has been providing. They have been providing them very well," Henry said. "The basis of our concern is the status of Rescue, the organization, and how it extends into the future. How's it looking?"
Hazelton said that changes in the health care system are raising questions about reimbursement and the changes are making it hard to plan too far into the future.
"But we're looking very good right now," he said.
The organization is moving toward more fuel efficient vehicles and making changes to its staffing model to help control costs, Hazelton said.
Putney spent $55,340 on Rescue Inc. in 2011-12 and the town budgeted $57,336 the following year.
Rescue is level funding costs next year.
Town Manager Cynthia Stoddard said a representative from Golden Cross Ambulance, which is based in Claremont, N.H. and maintains a garage in Westminster, will come to the next Selectboard meeting.
The company provides ambulance service to Rockingham and Westminster.
Stoddard said she was asked recently if the town residents would be able to vote on a proposed change in service, if the board elects to go in that direction.
The board does not need to get the approval of voters, she said, but the board does know that there are strong feelings about emergency services.
"Normally when we change who we buy trucks from, or we change electricians, we don't need to ask the voters," Stoddard said. "But this is more personal than that. They care more about this decision."
Laughlin said the board has not yet decided what role a townwide vote might play in helping the board make the switch.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.