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Northshire Rescue Squad member Linda O'Leary, left front, shakes hands with Manchester Select Board member Laurie Kunz, while Rescue Squad member Mike Alfano shakes hands with Select Board member Ivan Beattie at rear. The two sides reached a one-year contract year with a memorandum of understanding on issues to work on in the coming year.

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MANCHESTER — It took months of negotiations, but the Northshire Rescue Squad and the town of Manchester finally have an agreement, and common ground from which to move forward.

The one-year deal, approved by a unanimous vote of the Manchester Select Board on Tuesday night, also includes a memorandum of understanding between the town and the squad that sets what Select Board Chairman Ivan C. Beattie described as “a road map” for both sides to follow in pursuit of a longer-term deal next year.

The memo also creates a loose structure promoting improved communication between the town and the squad, as well as regular collaboration on leadership events and among public safety agencies. That increased communication already has been evident in two community events held in Manchester within the past month, Town Manager John O’Keefe said.

What’s more, the possibility of Manchester forming its own rescue squad is now off the table, and is expected to stay there if the partnership is as successful, as both sides believe it will be, Beattie said.

“There’s an expressed desire to meet the conditions of that memorandum of understanding. And if things go well — which I expect they will — we’ll be in position to put in palace a longer agreement. If there are stumbling points, there’s opportunities to address those,” Beattie said.

“I don’t see a lot of opportunity for failure here. There’s a big commitment on both sides to make this work,” Beattie said in response to a question by former Select Board member Steven Nichols. “It’s not like we’re dealing with a new entity. We know each other. It took time for both sides to understand the intricacies of the other party’s position. We spent a lot of time on that. We feel we understand Northshire Rescue Squad, and they understand us ... we feel like we’re on the road.”

Moira Spivey, who chairs the Rescue Squad’s board of trustees, said the agreement and memorandum of understanding are “just the first steps, but they’re big ones.”

“The MOU charts a course for a future of communication, collaboration and continued high quality emergency service” for residents in the five-town service area, Spivey said. “I am so proud of the work of the Northshire Rescue Squad and look forward to working closely with all our towns in providing life saving services to our friends and neighbors.”

The board addressed the agreement early in its meeting Tuesday, pausing for executive session for about 15 minutes before returning into open session. Heidi Chamberlain moved and Jan Nolan seconded the motion to approve the proposal.

After taking questions from audience members and discussing the deal, the board and O’Keefe shared handshakes with Rescue Squad treasurer Jim Salsgiver and board members Linda O’Leary and Mike Alfano.

Salsgiver said he is pleased that the board can now turn to informing the other four towns it serves — Danby Dorset, Mount Tabor and part of Winhall — that it can move forward on the one-year deal, with an eye to a long-term pact by this time next year.

Rather than treat Manchester separately from the other four towns, the sides agreed on a one-year deal for all five towns. The memo stipulates that talks between Manchester, the squad and the other four towns will begin in February.

“The stumbling block was getting the agreement with Manchester, and now it feels good to have that squared away,” Salsgiver said. “We feel very positive going forward.”

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The memorandum lays out the shared goal of ensuring the five towns in its service area have access to high quality emergency services. To meet that common goal, the two sides committed to goals including:

• collaborating on community health outreach, subject to staff availability, such as CPR training, blood pressure clinics, vaccinations and wellness checks;

• regular meetings between boards, management and staff to promote team building;

• increasing participation on the five-town Rescue Squad board;

• communicating problems and concerns “quickly and effectively”;

• regular collaboration and planning sessions between the Rescue Squad and the town’s other public safety agencies;

• and committing to finding creative solutions to the financial issues that have been a past source of disagreement.

The accompanying Emergency Medical Services Agreement, between the Rescue Squad and all five towns it serves, sets Manchester’s share of service fees for fiscal 2023 at $142,767. The other towns’ fees are $32,510 for Dorset, $13,817 for Danby, $3,657 for Mount Tabor and $3,048 for Winhall (which it serves from the Manchester line to the Route 11-30 split).

It also sets the squad’s rent at the public safety complex at $43,000 per year, and use of Manchester’s dispatch center at $67,000 annually.

That agreement also stipulates that any town seeing to form its own rescue squad or engage a third party to operate one must give 270 days notice.

Nichols questioned the deal having been discussed in executive session rather than in public, and said that the way the town had released the consultant’s report was an “embarrassment.” But Beattie defended the town on both fronts. The executive session discussions allowed the board to consider alternatives that eventually became dead ends, he said; airing those in public would have been confusing to the community.

“I am not embarrassed. I think we did all the right things,” Beattie said. “I think the Northshire Rescue Squad did all the right things. We landed in a place where we are all willing to move in the same direction.”

Reach Greg Sukiennik at gsukiennik@manchesterjournal.com or at 802-447-7567, ext. 119.


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