Support the squad this year, then do it smarter

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The Bennington Rescue Squad is asking taxpayers for an appropriation of $207,459. Voters should say "yes," but if that kind of money is going to be requested on an annual basis, it needs to be included within the town budget.

That Bennington needs a strong ambulance service isn't up for debate. That rescue squads can close when faced with financial difficulty is well within the realm of possibility. Even if closure isn't in the cards, having to use capital reserve funds for operating costs leads to a weaker organization.

Bennington isn't the only town being asked to kick in more funds. In early January, Forest Weyen, executive director of the Bennington Rescue Squad, went before the Shaftsbury Select Board asking to be placed on the ballot for a $42,000 appropriation. The board balked and instead made the squad a line item in its budget for $7,500. Shaftsbury had been appropriating $2,000 per year.

Woodford has also stepped up its contribution, going from a $220 ballot article to putting $5,000 into a budget line item for this year.

While Bennington has not been giving the squad anything through appropriations, it does let the squad use the Bennington Police dispatching service at a reduced rate. The squad's headquarters building is also tax-exempt, but that's also done every five years via Town Meeting Day vote.

Weyen told the Shaftsbury Select Board, and later the Bennington board, that the squad has been operating at a loss for a number of years and is having to tap its endowment to cover operating expenses.

The squad cites low insurance reimbursement rates and unbillable calls as the main reasons behind the loss.

Unlike in other towns, the squad's request is on the Bennington ballot because over 435 registered voters signed a petition supporting it.

For a time, it looked like the Select Board and the Rescue Squad would work out a deal in which the squad would withdraw the petition and the board would add a new one to the ballot for something in the range of $33,000, but that proposal was dropped.

By making the rescue squad appropriation a budget line item, planning would be easier for both the squad and the town. The squad would know for sure how much it stands to receive each year, while those building the town budget would be able to anticipate how much is being spent. Ballot articles can, and have, been voted down in the past, much to the chagrin of organizations that thought their request was a sure thing.

Perhaps the towns the Bennington Rescue Squad serves might get together at some point with the squad to talk about funding. Plenty of small, rural towns share such emergency services.

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