MANCHESTER >> A proposal to create a long range funding mechanism for the Manchester Rescue Squad has been developed to ease the pressure on its annual fundraising efforts and ensure its ability to continue to provide emergency medical and ambulance services across a five-town swath of the Northshire.
Under the plan, the rescue squad would receive operating revenues from dues assessed to Manchester, Dorset, Danby, Mt. Tabor and Winhall on a per-capita basis. The rescue squad would also assess a service fee to each of the five towns, divided among the towns on a percentage basis of the service calls it undertakes over the course of a year.
"We think it's fair to have a two-pronged approach like that where part of it is per capita and part of it is dues," said Ben Weiss, the chairman of the rescue squad's board of directors. "We're moving from in-kind support from Manchester to paying the rent in the (public safety) building, paying rent for the dispatch services, but they will also pay us the town's allocation and deficit. There's some pressure on all the parties to behave."
Currently, the rescue squad, housed at the Manchester Public Safety facility, pays the town of Manchester for the space and the dispatch call service, but that agreement expires next year, and both town and rescue squad officials have been searching for alternatives. A public safety study commissioned by the towns of Manchester, Dorset and Manchester Village and released sightly over a year ago urged the rescue squad find alternative means to financing its operations, or perhaps consider merging with the Manchester Fire Department and become a division within it.
The rescue squad, originally founded in 1964 as a largely all-volunteer service, has been forced to evolve increasingly into a salaried, professional operation, reflecting mounting certification demands and training requirements. In addition to needing to maintain and upgrade their ambulances and other equipment, that has brought more pressure on their bottom line and their ability to raise money from supporters.
Under the proposal hammered out between the rescue squad and various town officials, a 10 year agreement would see annual funding requests submitted each year for approval to a newly created Municipal Funding Board, with representatives from all the five towns. The allocation agreed upon would be baked into each town's budget, which voters are asked to approve each year during March Town Meeting. The funding requests would not appear as separate warned articles.
The municipal dues portion would be fixed fees based roughly on each town's population. In one example, used to show how the dues portion would offset the cost of a $200,000 ambulance, which the squad has to replace every three years, a total of $66,666 would have to be financed each year. Dorset, with a population of slightly more than 2,100, would pay 26 percent of the dues portion, or $17,333. Manchester, with roughly twice that in terms of population, would pay 52 percent or $34,666. Danby, Mt. Tabor and Winhall would divide up the remaining 22 percent, or $14,666.
The service fee portion would be a variable amount submitted annually by the rescue squad and would be allocated directly to the squad's deficit fund. This fund offsets the squad's costs for dispatch fees, rent, utilities, insurance, vehicle maintenance and medical supplies.
The service fees would be driven by the number of calls the squad had to make in each town from the previous year. Using statistics from 2013, that would project out to a service fee of $105,863 for Manchester, but that was largely offset by the in-kind support for rent and dispatch services. A better example might be Dorset, where the cost of 204 service calls in 2013 translated into about 17.6 percent of the squad's activity, and would have called for an assessment of $25,587. Manchester had by far the largest number of calls — 804, or 72.8 percent of the total.
Meanwhile, the rescue squad would continue to do its own fundraising, Weiss said. The benefits for the rescue squad would be that new ambulance purchases would be totally funded and they would be insulated against rising cost pressures from areas such as salaries and insurance.
"Insurance costs are always rising and our payroll is going up — it's a continuing struggle every year," Weiss said. "We feel it's a fair deal and the towns are getting a legitimate service that is as professional as the other safety services (police and fire) around here."
The next steps would include drawing up a memorandum of understanding that would be approved by each of the five town's select boards at public meetings prior to next year's Town Meeting, said John O'Keefe, Manchester's town manager.
"We have some sense of urgency that the rescue squad is a really important, essential function," he said. "This plan puts statistics to dollar signs."
The goal would be to have the new funding board and structure in place by 2017, he added.