ASHAWAY — By a single vote, members of the Ashaway Fire District defeated a resolution that would have authorized the district to allocate $50,000 from its general fund for the Ashaway Ambulance Association. The vote at Thursday’s annual meeting was 13 to 12.
The money would have been used to hire second and third shift personnel, which would have allowed the ambulance corps to offer evening and nightime service, which it cannot currently provide.
The fire district and the ambulance association are separate entities, and the proposed allocation would have been a precedent. Fire Commissioner Mike Williams said the priority for both entities, howerver, was saving lives.
“The fire district feels that it’s somewhat our responsibility to take care of the taxpayers, the people who live in our district,” he said.
But Williams’ argument wasn’t enough to persuade a majority of members to support the resolution, and some said they worried that the district would end up having to fund the association every year.
On July 23, the Hopkinton Town Council will discuss releasing grants it has withheld from the association, $10,000 for 2017-18 and the entire $50,000 allocated for 2018-19. The town budgeted but did not release the funds, citing the association’s ongoing management problems. Those issues now appear to have been resolved.
Council member Barbara Capalbo and council Vice President Thomas Buck, both of Ashaway, have been acting as liaisons between the association and the council. Capalbo said the final two conditions of the 10 that the council had set for releasing the funds had now been met.
Capalbo explained that in June, association Treasurer Eric Perrin had submitted a business plan and nepotism policy.
“Those were handed in to the council and reviewed,” she said. “Those will be on the agenda.”
The association has struggled financially in recent years, and while the grants from the town will keep it running, they will not be enough to enable the corps to expand its service.
Fire district officials said they were stunned by the vote.
“I’m surprised, because they’re jeopardizing their own safety,” Hopkinton Fire Chief Ronnie Sposato said. “This was a good thing for the public. I don’t know why they would deny this. It was only going to help them directly.”
Williams was at a loss for words.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said as he quickly left the room. “I don’t know.”
Scott Bill Hirst, who has voiced concerns about funding the ambulance association and voted against the resolution, said the provision of ambulance service was the responsibility of the town, not the fire district.
“I’m really concerned,” he said. “The whole town has to look at ambulance service in the town, specifically when you have two ambulance corps that certainly work together, but you have a situation where people in Ashaway such as myself, when I pay my property taxes, I’m also supporting Hope Valley.
He was referring to the Hope Valley ambulance squad. “It’s a question of the fire districts getting involved in the ambulance service when traditionally, the funding has come from the Town of Hopkinton for both ambulance corps,” Hirst said.
The budget passed without prolonged discussion. The 2018-19 operating budget is $465,000 and the capital improvement budget is $105,000, for a total of $570,000. Five resolutions also passed, including the allocation of $45,000 a year for five years for leasing 26 new new breathing apparatus and $30,000 to replace the chief’s vehicle.
Standing outside the fire house after the meeting, fire commissioner Robert Greene said he was shocked by the vote.
“Do you know how rare this is?” he said. “Normally, phone calls are made, and that room would normally be full of firemen and ambulance corps. They could pass anything they want. This was rare. I’ve never seen this, where the taxpayers outvoted the fire department.”