Franklin County commissioners to consider ambulance fee

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FARMINGTON — Franklin County Commissioners are divided over whether to consider charging a fee to NorthStar Ambulance for its use of county dispatch services ahead of a discussion with ambulance representatives Tuesday.

The private ambulance service, based in Farmington, responds to about two-thirds of the calls to county dispatch, but doesn’t pay for use of the service that’s generating their business, according to Commissioner Terry Brann.

“Since their existence, they’ve never paid,” Brann said. “I don’t know how they’ve been getting away with it. They’re a private business, and right now the county is paying for them to run their business. In my mind it isn’t right.”

NorthStar has used the county dispatch services for years and towns in Franklin County pay to guarantee service, but the question of whether the private ambulance service should also be paying to use county dispatch only recently came up, Brann said, when he started asking questions about it.

Lee Ireland, operations manager for NorthStar Ambulance, declined to comment. The discussion between NorthStar and commissioners is scheduled to take place at 9 a.m. Tuesday during the commissioners’ meeting.

Also on the agenda is final acceptance of the 2018-19 county budget, a discussion on the proposed new CMP power line through Franklin County and the naming of an interim director for the dispatch center. Stan Wheeler, director of the county dispatch center, is retiring June 30.

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There is no formal proposal yet to charge NorthStar a specific fee, but just the idea has divided commissioners.

“I’m not for it because they’re really the only emergency response for Franklin County,” Commissioner Clyde Barker said. “We’ve dispatched for them for a long time and it’s worked well.”

Other emergency services such as fire departments and animal control officers that use dispatch are run by towns that pay their portion of county taxes to get dispatch services, but that’s not the case with NorthStar.

“We give this to them as a free service, but they’re a for-profit company,” said Commissioner Charlie Webster, who like Brann said it is worth exploring a new fee. “The question has been asked, ‘Why do we do this for a private company?’”

He predicted if the county were to tack on an additional charge that NorthStar would add it on to the cost already charged to the towns.

Alternatively, he said the cost could be passed on to insurance providers or private payments to NorthStar.

“Assuming we agree to charge them, it would be a lot cheaper to pay us $50,000 or $60,000 than to try and re-establish their whole business somewhere else,” Webster said. “If they want to stay in business, they have to have somebody send the calls in. We’ll have to wait and see what they say. They may be able to make an argument that any charge from us will just mean a higher cost to the towns.”

NorthStar EMS in Farmington unveiled its third health-themed ambulance on March 11, 2016, to the community. From left, are Gerald Cayer, executive vice president; Dr. Lorien Batt, lead physician, Franklin Health Pediatrics; and Mike Senecal, director of NorthStar ambulance. Franklin County commissioners will consider on Tuesday charging the ambulance service a fee for using county dispatch services. (Contributed photo)

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