PROVINCETOWN — The draft version of next year’s budget was presented to the select board this week, and although the details are not final, two Proposition 2½ override votes are likely to be on the warrant at the April 3 town meeting. One would be for a new freshwater line at the town-owned MacMillan Pier; the other would add 16 firefighter-medics to the town’s EMS and Fire Dept.
A major expansion of that department has been discussed for years. Last January, Fire Chief Mike Trovato asked the select board that the town’s first full-time firefighter-medic positions be created in anticipation of the closure of the nonprofit Lower Cape Ambulance Association, which has provided ambulance crews to Provincetown and Truro for 86 years. On Jan. 5, LCAA announced that it would end operations on July 1 — a year earlier than anticipated.
The town had hoped to bring on eight professional firefighter-paramedics this year and eight next year, Morse told the select board on Monday night, but now it will ask voters to fund all 16 full-time positions this year.
Provincetown has an unusual hybrid emergency service, which includes a paid rescue squad of medics, a contract with LCAA for extra ambulance service, and an all-volunteer fire dept. Trovato told the board that he could hire nearly all of LCAA’s people and avoid a disruption to the town’s emergency medical capacities. (See related story)
The all-in cost for the proposed expansion is $2,343,500, which includes overtime and benefits for 16 people and an EMS coordinator position that was already created last year, Town Manager Alex Morse told the board. The town will no longer have to pay $1,018,000 to LCAA, however, and the town expects to collect $800,000 to $1 million in ambulance fees, mostly from insurance companies, starting July 1.
Because it is new revenue, the ambulance fees cannot be included in this year’s budget under state accounting rules, Morse told the board. That means there will be about $1,240,000 in unbudgeted expenses for the fire and EMS dept. this coming year, which will likely be paid for at town meeting with a Proposition 2½ override vote and possibly some free cash.
“We’re going to try to ask for the smallest amount possible,” Morse said, “but we want a recurring revenue source to support this department going forward, without having to come back over multiple years.”
The fire dept.’s current budget is $1,430,000, which includes supplies, maintenance, and personnel, although not capital expenses like trucks. That number includes $640,000 for the rescue squad, $85,000 for the EMS Coordinator, and Chief Trovato’s salary of $66,950. Volunteer firefighters are paid $50 per call, and up to 40 people respond to fire calls, Trovato told the board.
Trovato said the volunteers save taxpayers “an astronomical amount of money” and provide an intensity of response that a professionals-only department could not.
He also said that Sylvester Consultants, the firm hired last year to plan for the loss of LCAA, had insulted some of his volunteer or “call” firefighters when they came to visit the Provincetown fire station. Trovato asked the select board to recognize the continued value that volunteer firefighters bring to the department, regardless of what the consultants might say.
Select board Chair Dave Abramson asked Morse to ensure that the new jobs are posted at competitive pay rates with benefits that will be attractive.
“Our goal is to put up these job advertisements in February, even before town meeting, so we can have some one-on-ones” with LCAA’s existing staff and work on recruitment, Morse said. “It’s not going to be as hard as some people think to fill these positions. The benefit package, the health insurance split — these things make a difference.”
Another likely override vote that was not much discussed Monday would be for a new water line at MacMillan Pier costing $1.7 million. The town’s free cash balance is not yet finalized, Morse told the board, and the town’s five-year capital improvement plan could also see some adjustments, so the list of overrides that might be needed is still in flux.
Also in the budget report on Monday night were several new, eliminated, or on-hold staff positions.
An overage in the tourism fund, which receives a share of the town’s rooms tax receipts, will be used to add a position to the DPW buildings and grounds division “to support and improve the town’s beautification efforts in response to public inquiries and complaints.”
Select board members had complained in December that the town’s public areas and certain town-owned buildings, such as the tourism office at 330 Commercial St., looked shabby compared to places like Quebec or Istanbul.
The town’s health dept., which normally has two employees but has had only one since fall 2021, is now officially budgeted for one person. Health Agent Lezli Rowell has been promoted to health director, Morse told the board, and the agent position will be left open while the four Outer Cape towns work to implement a shared public health program later this year.
That program, outlined in an application for American Rescue Plan Act funds that the four towns submitted to Barnstable County, would include a mental health clinician, a public health nurse, and a certified nurse’s assistant. Monthly wellness clinics would offer screenings, education, and other kinds of preventive care for free, and the mental health clinician would offer free care as well.
Provincetown’s previous five-year mental health plan has been superseded by this new four-town collaboration, Morse told the Independent on Monday.
“As I told the select board last year, I don’t think we have the internal capacity to implement the five-year plan as it stands, and I think we are bringing many components of it to this regional collaboration,” Morse said. “A lot of the mental health and substance abuse challenges go across multiple communities.”
The five-year plan, which was presented by former Health Director Morgan Clark in spring 2021 before she resigned, envisioned two crisis counselors who would offer emergency mental health services to Provincetown residents to help address a severe lack of mental health care on the Outer Cape.
The ARPA grant application would fund one free mental health clinician for the four Outer Cape towns, though the program could conceivably grow from there, depending on how the towns chose to fund it moving forward. The county should be announcing the winners of this round of grant funding in April, according to ARPA grant manager Kara Hughes.
Finally, the emergency management and marine coordinator position that was created after Rex McKinsey was moved out of the harbormaster’s job in 2019 has been eliminated. DPW Director Jim Vincent, who previously advised the town on Chapter 91 compliance, will become the town’s Chapter 91 manager for an additional $10,000 stipend, and DPW Deputy Director Sherry Prada will become the emergency management coordinator, also for an additional $10,000. Police Chief Jim Golden will remain the town’s official emergency management director.
“That position was kind of a hybrid, with job duties being reassigned several times,” Morse said. “It was funded at town meeting last April,” but that money was never spent, as McKinsey resigned on June 30 last year, Morse said.
“We’ve actually already started paying those two stipends,” Morse said, as Vincent and Prada took on extra duties after McKinsey resigned. “We’re just bringing those two stipends onto this year’s budget.”