Hadley TM to consider adding ambulance service, Russell School study, food truck regulations

  • The Russell School building . gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Monday, May 01, 2023

HADLEY — Launching a municipal ambulance service, seeking a feasibility study to determine the best course of action for the historic Russell School building and adopting regulations for food trucks are coming before annual Town Meeting Thursday.

The 22-article warrant will be presented beginning at 7 p.m. at Hopkins Academy, with a $20.46 million operating budget that preserves existing municipal and school services and includes several new or expanded positions, including a part-time building inspector, a full-time health inspector and a full-time custodian.

Using $402,307 in free cash, the Hadley Fire Department is looking to start up the town’s first basic-level ambulance to supplement the advanced-level life support ambulances run by Action EMS.

Select Board member Molly Keegan explained at a forum previewing the Town Meeting articles that there is revenue associated with lost emergency calls that a town ambulance could be responding to. “That call volume is sufficient enough that we believe it’s an actual revenue opportunity for the town,” Keegan said.

The appropriation would be seed money as the first step toward bringing ambulance service in house and enhancing what has been offered since June 29, 2018, when Action EMS began serving the town. “You need to make the investment to get the program going,” Keegan said, noting that the town acquired an ambulance from the city of Northampton last year.

Fire Chief Michael Spanknebel said Action EMS has cut previous response times from 8 to 15 minutes to 4 to 6 minutes, but there are, on average, 150 missed second calls and calls where mutual aid partners have to respond. “For us, it’s about patient care and response time,” Spanknebel said.

Spanknebel is already bringing on two firefighters shared between fire and emergency medical service, and he has applied for a federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant to cover three additional firefighters that would allow around the clock coverage for the first time.

Russell School

While an article to spend $1.24 million in Community Preservation Act money to stabilize the 1894 Russell School building is off the warrant, voters will decide whether to spend $40,000 in CPA money on a feasibility study.

Town Administrator Carolyn Brennan said this study will explain all future options of public and private reuse, as well as cost estimates for operating the building, demolishing it or selling it to a private entity, as well as grants and historic tax credits available.

Other CPA spending includes $18,000 for the Hadley Historical Society to preserve, clean and mount 10 vintage needlepoint samplers that date back to 1795; $20,700 for a study of Lake Warner for a plan to ensure that it continues to be used for canoeing and recreation; and $15,000 for the Historical Commission to install new historic signs, update the West Street walking tour and create a new audio driving tour.

The food truck would set rules by which operators have to abide, whether running regularly or at special events.

“This would allow food trucks to be permitted by the Board of Selectmen under the food truck food license and food truck regulation in various zones,” Planning Board Chairman James Maksimoski said. Food trucks would be allowed in most parts of town.

The $20.46 million spending plan includes more realistic staffing levels, Brennan said. “(We’re) seeing the growing demands on Hadley’s workforce,” Brennan said.

Some of the increases in staffing will generate more revenue, including a part-time building inspector and increasing the health inspector from 18 hours.

A full-time custodian will be in charge of repairing and maintaining building, or a more robust building maintenance department, Brennan said. “This will definitely put us on a proactive direction, instead of neglecting repairs that are costly and inefficient,” Brennan said.

There will also be a new land use position to assist various board and committees and 2.5% cost of living adjustments for nonunion employees.

The budget is supported by $860,000 in free cash, but Finance Committee member Amy Fyden said this is down from $875,000 used a year ago, and part of a long-term effort to ween the budgets off this revenue source.

Other use of free cash includes $50,000 for a capital stabilization fund that will be built up over time, and $10,000 for an employee compensated time account for payments of unused sick and vacation time.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.