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Southern Aroostook towns express interest in starting new ambulance service after rate hikes

OAKFIELD, Maine — Towns across southern Aroostook met at the Oakfield Community Center on Thursday, Jan. 21, to discuss possibly forming their own ambulance service after Houlton announced substantial increases in rates for towns looking to use theirs. 

Representatives from all southern Aroostook towns, with the exception of Houlton, attended the meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss whether the towns should continue with ambulance contracts, or look into forming their own ambulance service under a consortium of 14 towns, which make up the southern Aroostook region.

“No matter how you slice it, the numbers are going to go up,” Dale Morris, the town manager for Oakfield, said. “It’s disappointing that Houlton’s not here, but that was their call.”

Marian Anderson, the town manager for Houlton, said the town did not attend because of COVID-19 regulation concerns, and that Houlton had already discussed the rate increase individually with many of the towns that were attending Thursday’s meeting. 

“I think we’ve been very responsive to the questions,” Anderson said. “Those communities have to do what’s best for those communities. It’s part of the process, and we understand that.”

Previously, southern Aroostook towns were paying a rate of $16.47 per capita for ambulance services from Houlton. Under the 2021 budget, that rate has now been increased to $74 per capita. That means the towns will be paying significantly higher ambulance contracts for the new year.

Oakfield, for instance, will pay nearly five times as much for ambulance services, from around $11,000 in 2020 to more than $50,000 in 2021. Littleton will be going from paying $17,000 in contracts to $77,000. And Hodgdon will go from paying $21,000 to $95,000. 

The hikes in ambulance rates mirrors that of recent actions taken by the town of Caribou, which has also begun charging substantial increases to surrounding townships, such as Connor, causing them to seek alternative options. 

Island Falls already has its own ambulance service, though representatives from the town were present at the Jan. 21 meeting and expressed interest in being part of a wider consortium. 

Paul Stewart, a former paramedic with the Houlton ambulance service and a resident of Hodgdon, led most of the discussion in providing an insight on how the ambulance service functions. 

Stewart provided estimates for how much each town would have to pay in order for an ambulance service to be formed based on borrowing a $1 million loan in order to start a service with three vehicles, along with purchasing all the necessary equipment to serve the 14 southern Aroostook communities.The cost would come to around $146 per capita for each town to contribute, Stewart said.

“If we pay that back in a year, we’re going to know if we need a little help in the second year,” Stewart said. “By the third year, we should be out so we shouldn’t have to be back again. It should be self-evident that we’re going to operate and we’ll be able to operate under the funding that the ambulance takes in.” 

The meeting concluded with the towns all expressing a mutual interest into looking into forming their own ambulance service, with a committee to be formed at a later date to report back to each of the towns regarding any proposed plan to start a new service.

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