Andover Select Board postpones vote on Chester emergency services MOU

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2015 Telegraph Publishing LLC

After the presentation of an “old school” handwritten spreadsheet made by board chairman Harold “Red” Johnson that analyzed the town’s equipment with an eye toward balancing maintenance with new purchases, the Andover Select Board, in its Monday, March 23 meeting turned its attention to an Memorandum of Understanding with the Town of Chester for providing fire, ambulance and emergency communications services.

The memorandum outlines the charges for fire, ambulance and communications services which totaled $18,300 and would rise to $23,485 in 2015.  The increases were $4,700 for fire and $485 as a share of the capital cost for upgrading the emergency communications equipment.  Going forward, the memorandum states that the Town of Chester will determine the fee for emergency services each year as part of the budgeting process. Johnson said that he understood that the Chester board had already determined that it would raise fire protection by another $5,000 to $19,000 in 2016.

In the 2015 budget, the Town of Chester raised its fee for providing fire service to Andover from $9,300 a year to $14,000. This was after representatives of the Andover board appeared at a Chester Select Board meeting to question more than doubling the fire fee from $9,300 to $19,000.

At that time, Chester board member Tom Bock said he felt that slower, graduated raises would have been better and admitted that Chester should have handled it that way. The Chester board decided to raise the fire fee by $5,000 the first year and $10,000 the second. The $6,000 ambulance service fee  and the $3,000 emergency communications fee remain the same as in 2014.

While an MOU is not a contract, Andover board member Jean Peters pointed out that if parties come to rely on the conditions of an MOU, it can become enforceable – like a contract. Peters objected to a number of points in the one page document, beginning with the last paragraph, which says in effect that Chester cannot guarantee service 100 percent of the time, but that won’t make Chester liable for not providing service or change the amount of the service fee.

Johnson said that one day in passing he had told Chester board chair John DeBenedetti that the new fees were “tough to swallow.”

While some Andover board members objected to paying capital costs of equipment without having a say in choosing, buying or disposing of it, others questioned whether the Chester Ambulance was up to the task. Peters noted several instances when Ludlow had to answer calls that Chester could not. Peters praised the professionalism of the Ludlow crews, but lamented their lack of knowledge of Andover’s back roads.

Road foreman Kevin Baker said that he has a scanner in his home and has noted how many more calls are coming to Chester. He said that Chester is not able to respond as often, speculating that without a lot of new members the current members are getting burned out.

Peters asked whether mutual aid agreements had been changed and that if Andover was paying for services, whether Andover should have to consent to those changes.

In the end, the board decided it could not sign the MOU. Peters suggested sitting down with Pisha to present the board’s thoughts and work out a one-year agreement.

Ash borers are on their way

Tree expert Jock Henry of S. Londonderry recounted information that he learned at a seminar to inform municipalities about coping with the mess that the inevitable arrival of the emerald ash borer will make. The insect, which lays its eggs in ash trees ultimately destroying the trees, is infesting every state around Vermont plus Quebec in Canada.

Henry pointed out that infected trees will be collapsing on roads and power lines and cannot be disposed of without taking measures to control the spread of the insects. The board discussed what a town’s liability might be and asked for a way to get a census of ash trees near roads, power and phone lines.

Members agreed that the town needs honest, straight-forward laws for dealing with the variety of possibilities that could come up. Harvey pointed out that information on emerald ash borers can be found at Taxpayers should expect to see information in May tax bills.

In other action, the Select Board replaced Jock Harvey with Carmen Macchia on the Planning Commission.

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