RUMFORD – Opposition to Med-Care Ambulance Service’s second 10-year extension to its 1988 agreement with its 11-member towns continues to stream out of Andover and Rumford.

Last month, a majority of town meeting voters in Andover rejected the contract but formed a committee to gather options for ambulance coverage for a special town meeting revote.

Rumford selectmen have publicly opposed Med-Care’s $2 million ambulance barn expansion project. Med-Care’s directors OK’d the project in September.

Rumford voters, however, won’t decide the contract issue until a June referendum.

“I’ll be damned if I’ll commit the taxpayers of Rumford to 30 or 40 years unless the taxpayers themselves vote for it. Then, I’d go along with it,” Rumford Selectman J. Arthur Boivin said regarding Med-Care’s funding option of taking out a 30- to 40-year federal loan to pay for the new station and land.

“I do feel they want to build the Taj Mahal. There are other options, but Med-Care seems to have tunnel vision. I will not support the 10-year interlocal agreement and that Taj Mahal either. But, if the taxpayers say yes, then I won’t have a problem,” Boivin said.

Rumford Selectman Mark Belanger opposes the expansion project and the interlocal renewal.

“I’ve had no trouble with Med-Care in its performance, but the interlocal agreement is flawed because only a few people on the board right now have the ability to tie the hands of all 11 towns by putting us in debt for a long period of time,” Belanger said.

“The building’s a sticky issue,” Rumford Selectman Brad Adley agreed.

“In my opinion, Med-Care’s level of service is awesome. I’d hate to see us lose that. We’ve got a good thing with Med-Care. … I see their regionalization as one of the really good things we’ve got going.”

Adley said the Med-Care issue must become the Rumford board’s No. 1 issue to resolve.

“What happens on June 11 if our citizens vote it down? We need to straighten this out. It’s there. We need it. It works. It’s pretty critical for us,” Adley said.

Many people in Andover also object to the loan commitment and want a shorter extension.

“The town voted not to renew the interlocal agreement, and it’s not because we dislike Med-Care or the service it provides,” Wayne Delano of Andover said.

Med-Care Director of Operations and Chief of Service Dean Milligan of Peru and Med-Care Board of Directors President Steve Brown of Carthage said the federal loan is just an option that hasn’t been finalized.

“Losing it is not a deal breaker for the project, but the biggest negative of that is that if we turn down the loan, then it’s all on the taxpayers,” Milligan said.

Neither Delano or former Andover Selectman David Percival want Andover to incur a multi-year debt which, they say, their children or grandchildren would be stuck paying.

“We’re very satisfied with the service, but the town doesn’t feel we want to enter a 30- to 40-year commitment for the building,” Delano said.

“I was not aware of the interlocal agreement in the past until this came to a head,” Percival said.

“I don’t see why they have to make the towns commit for such a long period of time. There is no mechanism in place with which to cap anything. Whatever they spend, you pay. The whole overall picture doesn’t seem to make efficient economic sense to me.”

Like Belanger, newly-elected Andover Selectman Susan Merrow objects to the expansion project and the contract extension.

“The interlocal agreement was written 20 years ago when Med-Care was a brand new young organization, and now they’re a mature organization and that agreement needs to reflect that maturity,” Merrow said.

She wants to see checks and balances inserted into the agreement that would prevent Med-Care board members – all of whom are representatives of the individual towns excepting two Rumford Hospital officials – from “having free rein” on monetary matters that would drive taxes up.

She, Delano and Percival also said they didn’t like learning at a March 18 meeting with Milligan after Andover rejected the contract, that Andover would be financially obligated to pay Med-Care $16,000 of debt owed by Andover people who’ve used the service but not paid their bills.

Additionally, Milligan told them Andover could lose $50,000 worth of its 20-year share of assets in Med-Care, the town’s first-responder program, and two ambulances kept in Andover. They would also have to pay $188,000, or its share of the 30-year debt that Med-Care would incur by taking out a loan to fund the expansion project even though that loan has yet to happen.

“Those threats really turned people off. For Dean to walk around saying we’re on the hook for something didn’t sit well,” Merrow said.

“What’s unfortunate is that Andover wants an ambulance service, and most of the people want Med-Care, but they can’t ram something down people’s throats and that’s what they’re doing,” Delano said.

Delano also objected to statements Milligan made in a lengthy letter to the editor in a recent edition of the Rumford Falls Times.

“Dean said, ‘In closing, please understand that the interlocal agreement vote is for the continued ownership and delivery of your medical services and not a vote on the facility.’ He’s telling a half truth. He is right that it’s not a vote for the building, but if you vote on the interlocal agreement, you’ve just given up all of your rights. The Med-Care board has already decided they’re building the building regardless of what anybody thinks.

“We’re hoping that some of the other towns like Rumford will see through this ruse, turn it down and force them to negotiate,” Delano said.

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