Boards discuss dissolving Whitingham Ambulance Services Inc.

Wednesday April 3, 2013

WHITINGHAM -- The Halifax Selectboard thought it would be a good idea to get a moderator to discuss with the Whitingham Selectboard, Deerfield Valley Rescue and various other members of the community the eventual dissolution of Whitingham Ambulance Services, Inc.

"There are lots of different groups who have lots of different interests," said Halifax Selectboard Chairwoman Edee Edwards. "(Whitingham Town Moderator) Leon Corse is going to lead our conversations today to put all our interests on the table."

On April 1, more than 30 people got together at the Jacksonville Municipal Center to discuss the future of WASI. It had previously been established that its assets will most likely being going to Deerfield Valley Rescue, which will take over the Halifax and Whitingham area.

WASI's license had been suspended due to its long response times. The organization has been running on a conditional license, which will expire on June 30.

Rescue Inc. could not commit to reaching the Halifax area and current WASI members could apply to Deerfield Valley Rescue and maintain a first responder agency in Whitingham.

Attorney Jeff Spencer, who represents various ambulance services, attended the meeting and represented WASI. Attorney Bob Fisher represented the town of Whitingham.

Fisher began by explaining where the assets would be going, what obligations WASI has and what's happening with ambulance and personnel.

Spencer said both towns were primarily concerned with having ambulance coverage.

"There's not a lot of time between now and then," said Spencer, speaking of June 30.

Stan Jankowski, chief of the Whitingham Fire Department, said WASI was interested in setting up a contract with Deerfield Valley Rescue before it starts talking about stopping the ambulance service itself.

A point that was explained during the meeting was the difference between corporate dissolution and the end of WASI as a service. Since WASI had just met with Spencer a few hours before the meeting, the organization was not ready to answer all questions with complete surety.

"We need to formalize more with the lawyer we just met with," said a WASI board member. "Severance is a bit vague right now. There's a four-month window, I'm not 100 percent sure of. There are some other financial issues down the road. It's a bit hard to put a time date on all of them."

"I said don't do things fast," said Spencer. "Do them smart. The immediate issue is get some type of relationship with Deerfield Valley Rescue ... This could take time. Lining up corporations isn't something you snap your fingers and it happens immediately."

Edwards brought up the concern, which has existed since the beginning of talks with WASI when it was put on probation, about response time. Some are worried that without WASI, there will be longer response times.

"One of our hopes is we get through this whole process being able to really maintain or increase volunteerism," said Edwards.

Deerfield Valley Rescue suggested current members of WASI apply to Deerfield Valley Rescue. Many Deerfield Valley Rescue members live further away, in towns such as Wilmington and Dover.

Edwards said it was the Halifax Selectboard's initiative "to have a clear transition plan and avoid bumps in the road." She said the board wanted to make sure "what we come up with is a long-term solution."

Edwards was glad to see a draft agreement, which Deerfield Valley brought to the table.

"If Deerfield Valley Rescue is amicable to June 1 as the start date, then that goes in this contact, but if we still have a contract with WASI, then we have two parties we're contractually obligated to. How does that work legally?" said Halifax Selectboard member Earl Holtz.

Spencer said it will take WASI six to 12 months to dissolve.

"We have to satisfy liabilities first," he added. "Deerfield Valley Rescue is going to have to make a plan with WASI on how to proceed."

"We do provide small stipends," said Deerfield Valley Rescue board member Merrill Mundell. "We rely on subscriptions and some contracts, like Mount Snow, for our funding ... Whitingham and Halifax are going to be completely different entities. We're going to need the townsfolks and residents to defray our costs. There's moneys we paid to WASI, which were for the same purpose for your area. If Deerfield Valley Rescue is asked to take over coverage, we'd expect from the contract that the coverage payment would be covered."

There is a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that WASI received for a new ambulance, which will need to be addressed before WASI can give over its assets. WASI will need to make sure it complies to guidelines set forth by the USDA.

"We can't give you the keys, but clearly, they're talking about getting that ambulance in service for Deerfield Valley Rescue to service the community," said Spencer. "I don't know when Deerfield Valley Rescue needs to get that ambulance in service, but I'm pretty sure we can find a solution to that problem."

Spencer said WASI board members will need to get together with Deerfield Valley Rescue to discuss what to do about the USDA grant.

There was also mention of a $30,000 certificate of deposit that WASI has saved over the years, and some concern over where that money would go to.

Mundell said there could be no merger between WASI and Deerfield Valley Rescue. WASI members would have to disband then join Deerfield Valley Rescue and service their community

"We're going to follow our own bylaws," said Mundell. "We're not going to bring everything to Wilmington and respond from there. If we can get a lot of people, it's going to be like business like normal, just a different name on it."

President of Deerfield Valley Rescue Mike Aldrich said his organization proposed a meeting with WASI on Monday, at the same place and time as WASI's regularly scheduled board meetings, to discuss these various issues in more detail. It was suggested that a member from each Selectboard attend, so everyone knows what's going on.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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