Negotiations with Chester to begin as Andover residents weigh in on fire, ambulance Tensions cool as select boards seek to find an equitable route

Video by Cynthia Prairie/Video editing by Leah Cunningham ©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC
 

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

More than 35 Andover residents attended the Andover Select Board on Monday night to voice their concerns over Chester’s decision to discontinue fire and ambulance service to the town at the end of this year. What they learned was that tempers have cooled since that announcement was made last Wednesday and that the towns were to begin negotiations on a contract Tuesday morning, when Board chair Chris Plumb was to meet with Chester Town Manager Julie Hance.

See Oct. 8, 2021 article: Chester Select Board to end contracting emergency services to Andover in 2022

Andover Select Board chair Chris Plumb explains where the negotiations stand. Photos by Shawn Cunningham unless otherwise noted.

Because of the size of the crowd, the meeting had to be moved from Andover Town Offices to Town Hall.

Plumb told the meeting that Andover had been in contact with other fire services to look into options and that nobody has enough people to cover the town. Plumb said Weston could do it if Andover gave them ten men to train and $60,000. He later told The Telegraph that was an off-the-cuff remark made by members of the Weston fire company at a meeting that Andover board members attended on Thursday Oct. 7.

Also in attendance was Chester board chair Arne Jonynas, who sat among the audience and asked for permission to speak. He said a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding was surrounding the situation and that the numbers originally given to the Andover board were examples to begin work from rather than a proposal for a fee. Jonynas said the town has been looking at similar relationships between other towns to find a fair and equitable number for both.

Chester board chair Arne Jonynas, right, shown here at the Oct. 4 joint meeting told the Oct. 11 meeting that he wants to keep the long relationship between the towns Telegraph file photo

“This is a long relationship between our towns,” said Jonynas, “and we want to keep that relationship.” That sentiment was echoed by a number of Andover residents, who recounted ways in which Chester and Andover have worked together over the years.

Andover resident Bruce Meyer told of two incidents when his family had need either ambulance service or fire service from Chester, and praised both for their quick responses. He then told the audience that Andover needed to “grow up and pay a fair share.”

Ray Makul, also of Andover, likened the situation to negotiating with a public utility for a rate increase and said he objected to paying for the “underlying costs” (like equipment and the new public safety building) without having any input into that spending. Makul likened it to the Revolutionary War slogan of “taxation without representation is tyranny.”

Andover resident Ray Makul said Andover taxpayers don’t get a say in what Chester spends on emergency services.

Chester’s new Public Safety Building has been financed by a bond issue that was approved by and will be paid for by Chester taxpayers.

Makul said he was glad to hear that Chester was not going to cut Andover off and suggested a six- to 12-month interim contract while negotiations on a future contract are conducted or going to court to get an injunction against Chester cutting off the services.

In addition though, Makul thought that Andover should have its own fire department and contract with the Londonderry Volunteer Rescue Service for ambulance.

A discussion ensued about how much say Andover residents should have in

Andover resident Fred Probst tells the board that public safety is their job. Photo by Cynthia Prairie

the Select Board’s negotiations with Chester. “I wouldn’t want to tell you how to do your job,” said Fred Probst of Andover, “but the number one job we elected you for is to provide public safety.”

Several described the situation not as a negotiation but as a cost the town has to pay, while others felt the public should have a direct voice or even a vote on the contract with Chester. It was suggested that the board hold a meeting for public input before agreeing to a cost for the services.

Repeating his thoughts from the Oct. 4 joint meeting of the Andover and Chester boards, Hank Mauti called for a formula for determining the costs that would be fair to both towns and be able to be used as the towns grow.

Plumb told the meeting that he thought the relationship between the two boards would be stronger and better because of this experience.

Board member Chris Walker says the current situation is not a reflection on the work of the Chester fire or ambulance services

Andover board member Chris Walker said he wanted to make it understood that this was no reflection on the members of the Chester fire and ambulance services and that they stand behind them.

“This is not a complaint,” said Walker. “It got messed up in the process.”

Jennifer Probst asked whether the current arrangement with Chester was based on Andover’s fiscal year (July 1 to June 30) or Chester’s calendar (Jan. 1 to Dec. 31) fiscal year. Plumb said it was based on a calendar year.

Board member Maddy Bodin noted that Andover still does not have a contract proposal from Chester for 2022.

Makul suggested that the “most productive” arrangement would be a multi-year contract.

Plumb said that negotiations would begin on the following day. “We’ll go from there,” he said.

 

 

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