ANDOVER, Vt. — The towns of Andover and Chester are continuing to negotiate for Chester Fire and Ambulance services to cover the town of Andover despite an announcement by the Chester Selectboard after an executive session during their Oct. 6 meeting that “the town of Chester is not interested in providing a contract for fire and ambulance services to Andover after Dec. 31, 2021.”
The following Monday, several dozen Andover residents attended the Andover Selectboard meeting on Oct. 11 to express their frustration and to hear an update from board chair Chris Plumb as he reassured the citizens that the towns were once again in negotiations and trying to come to an agreement, which they anticipated would be flushed out after meeting with Chester town manager Julie Hance and other Chester personnel in the coming days.
Plumb also outlined that in reaching out to other surrounding emergency providers in the area, no other town had the manpower or resources currently to cover Andover.
Board member Chris Walker outlined that the first numbers Andover was given by Chester for continued Fire and EMS services ranged from $74,000 to $150,000. He said that was when Andover began exploring other coverage and admitted that in the course of looking at other options, “We upset Chester greatly, the way we did it.”
He also made a point of praising Chester Fire and EMS services and personnel, saying they have always done an excellent job in the past and that this issue was not questioning that.
Andover had been paying approximately $36,000, which hadn’t risen in several years. The cost for 2022 would have been $55,754.67 based on a new formula according to Chester Selectboard’s announcement after coming out of executive session. Plumb said they were renegotiating based on that number. He anticipated it would be less than that but still more than the original $36,000, using a formula that’s based on fixed assets divided by the land parcels in each town as well as a fee for each call.
Several residents expressed their concern that they only learned about the end of the year termination of Fire and Ambulance services through a local news source and social media.
Maddy Bodin, who was the one Andover Selectboard member that attended Chester’s Oct. 6 meeting, said that Chester’s decision “was as shocking to us as it was to you.”
In recalling that meeting, she felt the two boards were making progress in the right direction but expressed concern that Chester’s board went into executive session to discuss the issue, something the Andover board has never done when discussing fire and EMS coverage.
Andover resident Fred Probst said that many residents were appalled to hear that in 60-70 days from now, they wouldn’t be able to dial 911. He said that although he was not attempting to tell the board how to negotiate, their primary responsibility to the town was public safety.
Chester’s board chairman Arne Jonynas, who attended the meeting in the audience stated, “Withdrawing from negotiations wasn’t a permanent thing.”
He also said that there was a lot of misinformation that had happened between the two boards. “We’re going to get together and figure out this number,” he said, but added that the final number would be substantially more than Andover has paid in the past. Jonynas expressed his commitment to work on some of their issues since Andover and Chester share a lot of things including schools and the recreation department.
Andover resident Hank Mauti spoke positively of the services provided by Chester and called for a formula that would be fair to everyone, and that as the towns grew larger, the contract would grow as well, be fair to both towns.
Andover resident Bruce Meyer also expressed his support of Chester’s services, praising their response times to his home in the past. He also suggested that without a contract for Fire and EMS in place for the town, that homeowners’ insurance might be difficult or impossible to get.
Resident Ray Makul was more interested in looking at the value of the service and suggested that Andover consider opening their own Fire Department and then partnering with Londonderry for EMT services. He was glad to hear that Chester was not willing to cut off services immediately but wondered if they could get an interim extension of 6-12 months of service while they go through negotiations. He later expressed concern that even though Andover will pay a portion of Chester’s Fire and Ambulance costs, they have no input on how those costs are set.
Several citizens asked if the Andover board could share with them the details and final number before they sealed the deal with Chester.
Bodin confirmed that currently they don’t know what Chester’s offer is. “When we know, you’ll know,” she said.
Chester’s next Selectboard meeting is Wednesday, Oct. 20, and includes an executive session to again discuss the Andover Fire and Ambulance contract.