Morristown has taken another step toward running an ambulance squad staffed primarily by paid employees, rather than volunteers.
The Morristown Select Board voted unanimously Monday night, Nov. 4 to add another part-time employee to the roster of Morristown Emergency Medical Services. That brings the department’s roster of paid employees up to three full-timers and five part-timers.
Morristown EMS Chief Bill Mapes is one of the full-time staff members, and he said Monday that he and Assistant Chief Corey Boisvert are racking up an extraordinary amount of overtime each week to make sure every shift is covered.
“There are 24 to 36 hours a week” that volunteers used to cover, but don’t anymore, Mapes said. One long-time volunteer, Sharon Duffy, recently passed away, some volunteers have taken a leave of absence and could return, but others on the roster aren’t covering even 15 hours a month.
Mapes isn’t willing to let a lack of volunteers lead to uncovered shifts — “They’re all covered,” he told the News & Citizen after the meeting — so he and Boisvert are piling up overtime.
“I’m routinely at my 40 hours by Wednesday afternoon,” Mapes told the board Monday night. “Frankly, our overtime budget is upside down right now.”
“You’re spending way more in overtime than you would to hire another part-timer,” Morristown Finance Director Tina Sweet told the board. The cost of bringing on another part-time staffer is under $25,000, said town administrator Dan Lindley. Mapes said his department’s overtime costs are already at roughly $35,000.
Mapes hopes a trained volunteer will take the part-time job, which allows for no more than 23 hours per week — although a few of the current part-timers have gone over that to help cover shifts.
On Tuesday, Nov. 12 Mapes said he planned to post the job this week, and would like to fill the position sometime “in the next few weeks.”
The rate of pay will depend on the new employee’s qualifications.
With the new staffer, two-thirds of all Morristown EMS shifts will be covered by paid employees, not volunteers.
Lindley sees the move as a transition point, as Morristown moves even further away from a department almost entirely staffed by volunteers.
“This fundamentally changes the face of the agency,” Mapes agreed. Ambulance services and fire departments across Vermont and the country are all struggling to recruit and retain volunteers, making moves like this necessary.
“I think it’s important for everyone to realize that what was primarily a volunteer service is no longer that,” Lindley said. “We’re primarily a paid service. Volunteers are still very important to what we do, but we’re transitioning” to a paid staff for the most part.
Mapes will report to the board in two or three months on how things are going.
In other business at the Nov. 4 select board meeting:
• Board chair Bob Beeman raised the possibility of expanding the sidewalk on Industrial Park Drive. Eventually, the board agreed to take stock of all existing sidewalks in town — whether they need repair, whether they should be expanded, and what the priorities should be.
“It’s going to be a budget discussion, how much they want to allocate for sidewalks,” Lindley said.
• The board changed the compensation plan for town employees not covered by a union contract. All will get a 1.6 percent cost-of-living increase next July 1.
• Lindley reported that this year’s paving is finally finished, as contractors laid final coats on Randolph Road and Bridge Street. The storm last Friday washed out a portion of Stagecoach Road, which will now have to be repaved, and he’s working with the highway crew to get that done soon.
• Lindley is looking into shutting off the electricity at the band shell in Oxbow Riverfront Park. That hasn’t been done in past years, but people recently began using the band shell for shelter during cold nights. They’ve been plugging in space heaters and cooking there, both of which create fire hazards and could leave the town liable in an accident.
• After an executive session, the board voted to hire two lawyers. One, Jim Barlow, will assist Town Clerk Sara Haskins in dealing with cemetery deeds; the other, Brian Monaghan, will represent the town in a Superior Court appeal filed by Morrisville Water & Light, contesting Morristown listers’ appraisals of the value of certain village-owned properties.