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Jim Tait 02/01-02/28/17

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January 19, 2018

1/12/2018 7:28:00 AM
St. Germain moves forward with ambulance deal
Christensen: 'I've had several people come to me with questions'

Evan J. Pretzer
Lakeland Times reporter

St. Germain town chairman Tom Christensen confronted and neutralized rumors floating around the community about its future launch of a dedicated ambulance service during the town board's meeting Monday night.

For the past few months, issues relating to emergency services in the area have been a topic of much discussion. In November 2017, the community of Plum Lake finalized an initial agreement with the town board which would see the two areas share burdens related to ambulance services once minor details were ironed out.

A fee of $100 would be charged to St. Germain when anyone in the town boundaries is transported by the Plum Lake ambulance and the town will be launching its own vehicle by June of this year under the discussed deal.

But it was the second item at Monday's meeting and the conversation around it which Christensen sought to address.

"I've had several people come to me asking questions," he said. "There's been some rumors going around town about the costs and the commencement date. I'll clarify each one now."

On the launch of the ambulance service, Christensen explained the start date is still tentative. It could be as early as June and as late as August. This was subsequently confirmed by St. Germain Fire and Rescue chief Tim Gebhardt, who gave the public details explaining why the new system might start earlier or later in the year than has been mentioned prior.

"It could start at some point in May even," Gebhardt said. "It's just a matter of finishing the school and other training. It will launch in June at the latest, but right now we're on schedule to launch before this month."

After stating this information, Christensen then moved on to expenses related to the measure. Contrary to what some in the community had heard, the new vehicle would not be an additional burden on their taxes.

"For this project (which costs $76,000 and is in line 42 of the budget), we did not raise taxes," he said. "It is not costing the town residents any more than it did last year. The rumor I've heard is taxes are going up and this is not accurate."

When audience members cited concern about the budget not being properly estimated, and thus leaving room for higher taxes if true, the town chairman also swatted away this theory and concluded discussion on the topic by urging residents to call him and ask questions.

"Our budget is balanced and flexible if expenses are not properly estimated," Christensen said. "I want folks to leave here knowing we have room in the budget if we need to make any adjustments. If we haven't estimated properly, we have room for adjustment. Your taxes are not going up. If you hear rumors like this, please call me or chief Gebhardt."

In Plum Lake

Though it may have seemed like it on Monday night, conversation surrounding this issue was not over. On Tuesday - with the authority given by fellow board members to get a deal finalized - Christensen traveled to Plum Lake to iron out remaining issues.

"We're still kind of volleying back and forth on this," Christensen told the Plum Lake Town Board. "In the sheet I handed out to you, I marked up changes in yellow. To start, I changed the order of towns in the first paragraph. In my version St. Germain was first and when you guys typed it the town of Plum Lake was first. I don't care whichever way it ends up. If you want to be first, it is fine with us."

Apart from other minor details, a major point of concern for Christensen was general liability insurance each community would be required to have under the contract, Plum Lake's amount was higher, and St. Germain's was lower.

"You guys have substantially more insurance coverage in dollar value than we do," he said. "What we're asking for is the limit to be changed from your numbers of $5 million per occurrence and $10 million aggregate to our limits of $2 million per occurrence and $4 million aggregate."

Instead of a firm switch to one or the other, the two towns ultimately agreed to carry separate amounts. In the view of Plum Lake town chairman Will Maines, any amount was fine if each community was meeting requirements set by the state.

"Let's agree to carry our two amounts that we have now," Maines said. "As long as we're meeting state rules, I don't think it matters if you have more or we have less."

With this matter and other small issues resolved, the Plum Lake board ultimately voted to approve the new agreement by a unanimous decision, sending the matter back to Christensen and his colleagues in St. Germain.

"We'll finish up on our end and I think we've got the deal done," Christensen told The Lakeland Times. "It's great."

Evan J. Pretzer may be reached via email at evan@lakelandtimes.com.

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