BUCKFIELD — Selectmen and Rescue Department officials will return to the drawing board Wednesday to etch a plan to cut $52,000 from the budget, which could threaten the town’s 24-hour emergency medical coverage. 

In June, voters slashed the tally from the department’s proposed budget at the annual town meeting. The decision was met with dismay from town officials, who had already reduced it from last year’s tally of $186,585 to $135,000.

For the past two months, officials have mulled how to find an equivalent amount in services and supplies to remove, but no agreement has been approved.

Initial proposals presented by rescue Chief Lisa Bennett and Town Manager Cindy Dunn that called for the elimination of night and weekend coverage were rejected by selectmen in July.

Half of the overall cuts were to on-call personnel paid hourly for night and weekend shifts, which would have saved roughly $27,000.

As part of that plan, Bennett’s salary would be reduced by $1 an hour, half of all medical supplies stored on-hand would have been cut, and about one-third of all personnel training would have been eliminated. 

However, town officials caution that if services are cut, the lost billing revenue could have the net effect of costing residents more money.

In addition to thousands of dollars earned on local calls, Buckfield generates about $8,050 through contractual agreements to provide the towns of Sumner and Hartford with emergency aid.

The potential gaps created by cuts to service coverage are another dilemma for officials to iron out. Though Maine towns are not required to provide emergency services, those that do must provide 24-hour coverage, and the gaps created by eliminating coverage during certain hours would necessitate a contractual agreement with an outside service. 

In 2011, the town studied outsourcing its rescue department to other area services; of the five it contacted, only one — Mexico-based Med-Care Ambulance — said it was interested in picking up calls in the town, at a cost of $275,000.

Wednesday’s workshop may prove a moot point as voters will be asked to consider restoring funding at a special town meeting Aug. 27, the result of a voter-led petition drive.  

Selectmen initially scheduled a meeting earlier in August, but rescinded their decision a few days later when it seemed apparent a resident-driven petition with the same goal might manifest. 

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