Selectpeople argue ambulance arrangement loudly, quietly remove head of police department

12 years ago

By Natalie Bazinet
Staff Writer

LIMESTONE — A reoccurring sentiment during the last meeting of the Limestone Board of Selectpeople was for governmental transparency, the citizens’ right-to-know and making sure the board wasn’t operating in a manner that looked like they were doing something behind the scenes — ideas that predominantly pertained to the potential shift in ambulance services from Crown Ambulance, based out of Presque Isle, to the Caribou Fire and Ambulance Department.

At the same time, it took the board under 30 seconds with no discussion to remove Limestone Police Chief Stacey Mahan as department head of the Limestone Police Department.

When asked by the Aroostook Republican as to why the board chose no to reappoint Chief Mahan, the board said they couldn’t comment as Mahan was not there. Mahan’s attendance had not been requested by the selectpeople, and Mahan was the only department head not reappointed during the July 18 meeting. The board did respond to a question of if Mahan was still the police chief.

“Currently,” said Selectperson Chair Jimmy Pelletier.

The motion not to reappoint Mahan was made by selectperson Tom Devoe and seconded by selectperson Danny Gahagan Sr., both who refused to comment again the following day.

Though the board was tight lipped about not renewing the police chief, the ambulance situation evoked heated arguments and much finger pointing.

The board’s July 18 meeting was supposed to be preceded by a public hearing to obtain citizens’ thoughts on switching services from Crown Ambulance to the Caribou Fire and Ambulance Department for Limestone and Caswell; the Loring Commerce Centre is also included in the new ambulance coverage proposal, though the center has been contracted with the City of Caribou for services since 1994, according to Fire Chief Paul Durepo.

Durepo explained the new contract, saying “this proposal [with the Caribou Fire and Ambulance Department] is going to leave a paramedic and an EMT in Limestone 24/7 (and firefighters too) — they will never, ever go on a transfer and leave the town, which [currently] happens all the time here,” he said.

As explained by Pelletier, the scheduled public hearing was cancelled due to a lack of information needed by the board, citing the question of who would pay for the benefits of the three full-timers that would be stationed in Limestone.

Pelletier explained that the proposed contract stipulates that benefits be provided for the three workers that are currently at Loring.  

Before an answer was presented to Pelletier’s question, Gahagan expressed his displeasure to the board regarding their decision to cancel the public hearing.

“I thought we were elected, and I’m baffled here as to how this thing got turned around here so bad; all we were looking to do was the best we could for the community; it shouldn’t be for personal vendettas or personal reasons, or ‘I’m mad at that guy because he stole an apple off of my tree two months ago,’” Gahagan said. “It should be the citizens of Limestone at a public forum, voting just like we did with the police department,” he added, referring to a public hearing on March 18.

(During that last public hearing, Limestone citizens were almost unanimously opposed to reducing police department coverage hours from 24 to 18; based on the town’s resolve, the selectpeople stopped pursuing 18-hour coverage options.)

Gahagan expressed that regardless of whether they choose Crown or Caribou for ambulance services, it’s the citizens’ decision to make.

Regarding canceling the July 18 public hearing, Gahagan told fellow board members that “if I was the City of Caribou, I would have called you guys the other day and said ‘see you later, you’re on your own.’ How does that look to the public, to our citizens? What are we trying to hide? And that’s why I’m coming back to [this topic] — when you guys do this stuff, it makes it look like deceiving or deception,” he said.

Pelletier’s question regarding who would pay for the benefits of the three full-timers at Loring was answered by Durepo, who stated “presently, they’re Fort Fairfield employees so obviously, if we do this, they would have to be paid by Fort Fairfield.”

That answer caused selectperson Gary O’Neal to ask an additional question pertaining to the proposed contract.  

As the contract apparently charges the same per capita rate that other communities (like Woodland and New Sweden) pay for ambulance services, O’Neal was concerned that Limestone would be charged twice for Limestone residents who work at Loring, as Loring, Limestone and Caswell are all part of the proposed contract.

Pointing to two of his fellow board members, O’Neal explained “so that means your wife, your wife and myself, that gentleman sitting right back there and anyone else who pays taxes in Limestone [and works at Loring], we’re going to have to pay twice for those people.”

Though Durepo would later explain that O’Neal was incorrect in his ideas and that Loring would be paying Caribou as they’d done since 1994, the clarification was only stated after the conclusion of a shouting match between Gahagan and O’Neal which began when Gahagan asked O’Neal “So you’re holding this whole process up because of that — because of a personal need?”

When an audience member inquired as to why Gahagan was in “such a hurry to get rid of Crown,” Gahagan responded that he feels the quality of services currently being provided to the town through Crown is substandard to what Limestone could be receiving through a contract with Caribou. He also added that if anyone should be fighting for Crown to stay in Limestone, it should be him as his son currently works for Crown and if Crown goes under, his son would be out of a job.

“So this isn’t self service,” he explained, “this is a service to the Town of Limestone.”

The same audience member asked the board if they really felt that Limestone would get any better service from the Caribou Fire and Ambulance Department now than they did back when Caribou had the ambulance contract, “and last time, Mr. Durepo fought hard to get rid of Caribou to get Crown in here.”

Durepo explained that last time, he was in favor of Crown Ambulance because they were going to put an ambulance in town and have medics at the fire station.

“At that time we had no one, we had nothing, we had no ambulance, we had no people, and this [new] proposal is going to leave the paramedic and an EMT in Limestone 24/7,” he said.

Crown Ambulance is contracted to have an ambulance in Limestone 50 percent of the contracted time, but residents have expressed to the board that they want better ambulance coverage.

“As a matter of fact, at 6 p.m. this evening I responded to a call at the boarding home; there was no ambulance here and [Crown] had to respond out of Presque Isle and that goes on all the time, and that’s my problem [with Crown],” Durepo described.

“There’s nothing wrong with Crown Ambulance’s employees — they have good employees, they have good paramedics, they have good EMT’s — but it’s the times we’re left without coverage,” he added.

The board informed the audience that they have asked Crown to come up with a proposal for 24-hour coverage, but according to Pelletier, Crown officials stated they are unable to do so.

With only O’Neal opposed, it was his opinion that the board should first meet with members of the Loring Development Authority, the selectpeople settled on holding a public hearing in room B101 at the Limestone Community School at 6:30 on Thursday, July 26.