HOPKINTON — Voters at a special meeting of the Ashaway Fire District on Monday approved a measure allowing the district to allocate $50,000 from its general fund for the Ashaway Ambulance Association to help the organization expand its staffing.
The vote, conducted by paper ballot, was 30 to 22. It came after voters at the annual meeting in July narrowly defeated the proposal, 13 to 12. About 100 petitioners forced Monday’s special meeting.
Ashaway Ambulance officials said the money would be used to hire second- and third-shift personnel, which would allow the ambulance corps to offer evening and night service, which it cannot currently provide.
The fire district’s $50,000 grant allocation is being matched by $50,000 given to the ambulance association by the Town Council on July 23.
Citing the association's ongoing management problems, the council had withheld $10,000, the remainder of funding for 2017-18, and $50,000 allocated for 2018-19.Those issues now appear to have been resolved and the grants will be paid.
Despite passage of the measure, some voters at Monday’s meeting were unhappy that the fire board couldn’t give any assurances that the ambulance wouldn’t ask the fire district for more money in the future.
“I’d like to think that this is a one-time thing to help them get out of a hole, but I don’t know,” Fire Commissioner Mike Williams said.
Williams also wasn’t able to give a definite answer on whether the new grant from the fire district would allow the ambulance association to eliminate a $50 annual subscription the association collects from about 150 families. Subscription membership waives any copay or deductible that a family might be assessed. Those who don’t pay the subscription are billed for ambulance services.
Such a move would be up to the association, Williams said. The association is a private nonprofit group.
Scott Bill Hirst, who voted against the request, said that historically, it’s been the town’s responsibility to give funding to both Ashaway and Hope Valley ambulance corps.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to give money from the fire district to the ambulance association,” Hirst said. He said it amounts to double taxation for Ashaway Fire District taxpayers who pay taxes to the fire district and the town.
The fire district’s 2018-19 operating budget is $465,000 and the capital-improvement budget is $105,000, for a total of $570,000.
Others didn’t feel the same way. Troy Larkin said his son suffered a broken neck Saturday, and the Ashaway ambulance was at his home with a full crew in less than a minute. The ambulance later transported his son from South County Hospital to Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, where the boy is recovering, Larkin said.
His experience led Larkin to fully support the request for funds.
“It comes to peanuts out of our pockets,” he said of the extra funding approved Monday.