Chester Select Board to end contracting emergency services to Andover in 2022 Cites 'heightened animosity' and 'clear distrust' of Chester

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

On Wednesday night, the Chester Select Board decided — after a one hour executive session — that the town would no longer provide its fire and ambulance coverage to Andover after the end of this year.

When the board came out of the closed door meeting, board chair Arne Jonynas read the following statement:

“At this time, the Town of Chester is not interested in providing, or offering a contract for fire or ambulance service after Dec. 31, 2021. Had we offered a contract the cost would have been $55,754.67 based on a new formula which will be available at the town office. We wish Andover the best in their search for coverage.”

The formula for calculating the price of the service takes into account both the capital and operational expenses of maintaining fire and ambulance services that are ready to respond. But the formula separates the way those are calculated. According to Chester Town Manager Julie Hance, the capital expense is calculated on the number of parcels that are being protected in each town while the operational expense is based on the number of calls in the previous year.

On Friday, Hance explained that the capital expense being calculated on parcels recognizes that there are many second homes in each town and the emergency services must be prepared to respond to them whether they are inhabited or not.

While coverage relationships among municipalities change from time to time – as when the Town of Jamaica moved from the Londonderry Volunteer Rescue Service to Rescue Inc. for a portion of its area bounded by Winhall, the relationship between Chester and Andover is quite long. Former Chester Fire Chief Harry Goodell began serving in the department in 1969 and told The Telegraph that Chester was covering Andover then and to the best of his knowledge had been covering it before then.

After a number of years of providing the services at the same price (see chart below) in 2014 the Chester Select Board wanted to raise the annual fee for fire coverage for Andover from $9,300 to $20,000. But board members wondered whether Andover could pay the assessment. The board said that it should have raised the assessment in the past when the increases would have been gradual. Since the 2007 budget, the figure has been $9,300 (up from $8,280 in 2006). “It’s our fault,” said then Chester Select Board member Tom Bock at the time. “We let this slide for 10 years or more. It’s on us.”

After that, the Chester and Andover boards worked out a memorandum of understanding that increased the cost in steps. The last increase in the cost of emergency services was in 2018.

A 14-year history of the amounts Andover has been charged for fire, ambulance and dispatch by the Town of Chester. Click image to enlarge.

Currently, Andover pays $33,000 for fire, ambulance and dispatching services, a cost that has remained the same since 2018. Ambulance and dispatch have remained the same since 2009 at $6,000 and $3,000 respectively although the actual cost of both has risen in those 12 years.

The 2021 Chester budget for those services is $466,139 or $137 per full-time resident, with Andover’s share taken out of the total. Under the current arrangement, Andover is paying $71 per full-time resident and substantially less than that when second homes are factored in. Looked at another way, covering Andover adds more than 50 percent to the land area that Chester serves for a little more than 7 percent of its operating budget. Chester is 55.9 square miles; Andover is 28.8.

As questions, accusations and misinformation about the fire service have grown in recent months, the Chester board believed it would be in order to hold an informational session to explain how fire service works and why costs go up. That meeting between the two Select Boards took place on Monday in Andover.

But as the meeting wound down, Andover Select Board member Chris Walker, referring to Chester’s effort to calculate a new fee structure for providing emergency services, said loudly, “Chester just wants to shove this down our throat.” He then slammed down a cup and walked out.  In response, Chester Select Board chair Arne Jonynas said, “We’re not going to shove anything down anybody’s throat, that’s not how we work, that’s not how this board is, that’s not how our town is.”

Based on recent discussions and interactions with and by the Town of Andover and their individual board members over the past few weeks, Chester does not feel that we can provide fire and ambulance service to the Town of Andover that would be considered by them to be acceptable and/or affordable.

The Chester Select Board

‘Heightened animosity between the towns’

Within a few days, however, things changed. A Chester town official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity since they are not authorized to speak for the town on the subject, said that one or more Andover Board members had contacted members of the Chester Fire Department to recruit them to leave that organization and join a new Andover fire company.

It was not clear whether  that person was acting on behalf of the Andover board nor whether there are actual plans to form a new organization — either a private, volunteer company or a municipal department.

Also on Thursday, the Chester Select Board issued a statement saying:

“Based on recent discussions and interactions with and by the Town of Andover and their individual board members over the past few weeks, Chester does not feel that we can provide fire and ambulance service to the Town of Andover that would be considered by them to be acceptable and/or affordable. The service we provide and the cost we provide it for has been repeatedly questioned with statements of clear distrust of the Town of Chester. Inappropriate actions by some Andover Selectboard members have unfortunately heightened animosity between the towns. For this reason, we feel that it is appropriate to part ways, for now, and allow the Town of Andover to identify fire and ambulance coverage through other means. We will continue to provide services through December 31, 2021.”

On Thursday morning, The Telegraph called or emailed the four Andover board members who attended the Monday meeting for comment. As of publication time, members Scott Kendall and Chris Walker have responded. Kendall had no comment.

However, on Friday, Walker referred to his statement at the Monday meeting and said, “I never meant to insult the Chester Fire Department or Ambulance Department. And I never meant to insult the Chester board.”

Walker went on to say that it was his understanding that the higher dollar cost calculations that Hance had given the Andover board as a first step in negotiating were actually Chester’s position and he believed they were too high.

He also noted that he had contacted one Chester firefighter to see if that person would serve on an Andover fire department if that became necessary. But, Walker said, he understood that volunteers could serve on multiple departments and he was not trying to pull a volunteer away from Chester.

“I think this has been a misunderstanding and miscommunication,” said Walker. “I’d like to offer an olive branch, or even the whole tree.”

Related Links:

Oct. 6, 2021: Chester emergency departments explain costs, training, services in Andover

Sept.  15, 2021: Andover Board, residents complain about Chester emergency service, cost: Negotiations, creating a fire department among strategies

Sept. 8, 2021: Chester board mulls cost of fire, ambulance coverage for Andover

Jan. 13, 2016: Andover OKs Chester service MOU, finalizing full budget, then takes up a party issue

May 26, 2015: VTel responds to Big Pole controversy in Chester; Andover-Chester MOUs still in play

May 12, 2015: Chester Select Board revisits Andover MOU; ice cream truck permit will have to wait

April 14, 2015: Andover to send revised MOU to Chester for emergency services

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  1. Barre Pinske says:

    It’s too bad community leaders are put in this position. Andover obviously feels vulnerable having relied on Chester and Chester feels the real burden of the expense of supporting Andover. It’s not much different than older kids at home and needing to charge them rent or get out on their own. It may seem like Chester or the parents are in the drivers seat but they are not the town can become responsible for its self if the choose. I hope these struggles are just part of the negotiation process knowing our select board and town manager well I’m certain they are being as fair as they can I’m sorry they are put in this position. I have much respect for Arne (Jonynas) making the tough statement that can’t be easy.

  2. L. Howe says:

    I was born and raised in Chester, Where I now live in California the basic charge for an ambulance is $2500.00 plus $62.00 per mile the person is in the ambulance plus fees for oxygen and any other services. That means a single trip from Andover to Springfield would cost between $3500.00 and $4000.00, A fully staffed Fire Truck would cost much more. The people of Andover are complaining that $55,000 for a full year of unlimited service is too much! What a bunch of fools.

  3. Tom Knockenhauer says:

    Blame your elected officials who were voted in by the people of your community if you’re not happy with the decision they made about your future, with their stand on paying for fire and rescue services from Chester.

    With the vacation home tax break (by not charging them Hotel tax, anything extra) like all the Inns and legitmate bed and breakfast’s need to pay. Andover community gives their homeowners and paying guests free rein to abuse the roads, septic systems and residents bullying their way through our town. By renting their homes out and not reporting revenue.

    Calling 911 on a regular basis because their dogs ran off, no cell service for lost hikers who have no business even hiking dressed in shorts and a Go-Pro. Picking up wild baby animals thinking they’re abandoned and calling 911.

    The elderly should blame their elected officials and ask them what they should do if they’re not happy with the decision they made about fire and rescue. And what sort of community decisions there having to help them with knowing what they should do if these services are needed.

    Cheap is expensive when it come human life.

    Just because non-residents buy flooring, sandwiches, paint and booze when they come up here, it does mean they come first. Think about your decisions and make sure they’re for the people of your community not just because you dislike a bill that needs to be paid .

  4. Hi Laurie,
    Chester (and other ambulance services) are part of mutual
    aid agreements. If Andover contracts with an ambulance and
    that service can’t respond, Chester may be called upon to
    respond. This happens all the time in the winter when Ludlow
    is busy with injuries at Okemo. Chester goes to cover for
    them.

  5. Laurie O'Connor says:

    So,to be clear..if an elderly person in Andover needs emergency services and Londonderry or other ambulance isn’t available, Chester won’t respond?

  6. Thank you – the Select Board of Chester. As hard as it is to think a town will be without Emergency Coverage, the Town of Chester’s first priority is our residents. The criticism and complains have most likely come from few but unfortunately have been rather vicious and impact the entire Andover Community.
    I pray that Andover can find a solution for their needs. This is just another example of some putting personal opinions and desires before considering the impact on the whole.

  7. D. Douglas says:

    I applaud the Chester select board for this decision.

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