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Firefighters defend ambulance proposal

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Members of the Nahant Fire Department: Josh Mahoney, Nick Papagelis, Lt. Dave Doyle, and Austin Antrim, feel the Finance Committee is inaccurate with its information.

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

NAHANT — The Nahant Firefighter’s Association is knocking down the Finance Committee’s opinion that an Ambulance Enterprise Fund is not necessary.

Fire Chief Michael Feinberg submitted a Town Meeting article to adopt an Enterprise Fund to defray the cost of operating an ambulance service. Feinberg said the account is designed to capture the revenue from ambulance transports and use it directly to offset the operating cost of providing the service.

But the Finance Committee is not recommending Town Meeting support the article, stating that the town “should not act in haste” and recommending indefinite postponement.

According to the Department of Revenue, an Enterprise Fund “establishes a separate accounting and financial reporting mechanism for municipal services for which a fee is charged in exchange for goods or services. Revenues and expenses of the service are segregated into a fund with financial statements separate from all other governmental activities.”

“Rather than provide Nahant residents with enough information to make an informed decision for or against the establishment of such a fund, they provided incomplete, and in some instances, incorrect information,” Austin Antrim, president of the Nahant Firefighter’s Association, wrote in a letter to town residents.

The revenue has already been captured by the town since the fire department resumed emergency ambulance services about 20 years ago, he said. But Selectman Richard Lombard expressed concerns that passing the article would make an ambulance ride more expensive.

“What is proposed is the creation of a fund that would take all the medical billing revenue collected by the Town of Nahant and use it specifically to offset the costs of providing the service. Currently, the line items in the Nahant Fire Department budget that relate to the ambulance service are funded through the general fund. With the establishment of the Ambulance Enterprise fund, the majority of those line items will be funded directly by medical billing revenue instead of the general fund.”

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The Finance Committee also stated in its recommendation that  “revenues aside, the benefit to residents of an Ambulance Enterprise Fund is questionable, and there is no urgency to doing it now.”

The document said that in 2016, the Fire Department responded to 18 fires, 360 ambulance runs, and 62 assists to invalids, “a pattern that has been consistent for years.”

In his response to the panel’s decision, Antrim said the numbers were inaccurate.

“In 2016 the Fire Department responded to 708 emergency calls of which 49 percent were emergency medical calls,” he wrote. “For three consecutive years the overall emergency call volume has increased, with 2015 and then 2016 setting new records for the most emergency calls handled in a year by the Nahant Fire Department.”

The committee members added they had concerns with the department’s “acquisition of unplanned and unbudgeted assets (i.e. a drone),” which raised concerns about making additional funding available outside Proposition 2 ½ protections.

The Annual Town Meeting begins at noon on Saturday at Nahant Town Hall.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte

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