Opinion Column on Hinesburg Ambulance Service – Kate and Bill Schubart (2/6/22)

We believe that the municipal budget we’re about to vote on, the unknowns therein, and the unquantified future costs these commitments will incur are unsustainable in Hinesburg. Kate and I voted against the ambulance proposal when it last came before us for these reasons, and our view has not changed.

We share Hinesburgers’ broad support for our fire and rescue service men and women but also believe that many were worried that a “no” vote would indicate otherwise. We also believe many voters responded to incomplete or inaccurate information in voting for the new ambulance service, and now we’re about to confirm that vote again by Australian Ballot vote on or before March first, still without full information on the costs.

We believe we must slow down this avalanche of new spending and determine our public safety needs with a more sustainable, cost-efficient strategy.

In the proposed operating budget, police, fire, rescue, and ambulance account for almost a third of the budget or $714 of the total $2311 tax impact on a $400k home. And our municipal long-term debt is already nearing $10M, on the high end for a town our size.

We should consider the cost-sharing cooperative opportunities for public safety services (fire, rescue and policing) and reject these substantial public safety budget increases, especially as they leave many questions unanswered about staffing, training, and technology.

Today’s ambulances are not just transport vehicles, they’re sophisticated extensions of emergency rooms with complex and expensive life-saving and diagnostic equipment requiring trained medical staff. We did not see these in the budget.

Richmond currently provides medically qualified ambulance service to Hinesburg at an annual cost of approximately $50,000, or $10 per Hinesburg resident. Operating our own service will cost three and a half times that. Hinesburg also faces other unquantified needs for sewer and town vehicle upgrades, landfill closure costs, a new town hall roof, etc. And, like all towns and businesses, we’re already facing an employee shortage.

According to the spreadsheet on town’s website for the 11/2020 ambulance vote, the ambulance budget alone was anticipated to grow to $322,306 by FY26 for a per capita cost of $61. How long can we all afford this?

Many Americans measure well-being by the daily stock indices rather than by the daily lives of those who must survive a pandemic, care for loved ones, buy food, maintain vehicles, keep warm, and pay rising property taxes. As economic pressures continue on all but a few Vermonters, we must ask ourselves whether the greater Burlington area, from Milton to Richmond and Charlotte, really needs ten police, fire, and rescue departments? There are upwards of ten law enforcement agencies within a 15-mile radius of downtown Burlington, nine fire departments, and a similar number of stand-alone or integrated EMS services. At a minimum, we should be looking to our neighboring communities to share in these services.

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