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Wakefield resident complains about ambulance service writeoffs

by Thomas Beeler
Editor of The Granite State News
April 17, 2014
WAKEFIELD — Town Administrator Teresa Williams reported at the April 9 selectmen's meeting that she had received a complaint about the board's decision at their last meeting to write off $160,000 in unpaid bills for ambulance service dating from 2003 through 2009.

The town's auditor, Vachon Clukay, raised the issue about the uncollected receivables and Williams had reviewed the list with Fire Rescue Chief Todd Nason. The two recommended writing off those old bills as being uncollectible and concentrate on the $27,000 in bills left unpaid from 2010.

The town used to do the billing for its ambulance service, Williams said, but then decided for a number of reasons to contract with Comstar, an outside service, to handle the billing. Comstar makes three attempts to collect any bills not covered by insurance. After that the bills are added to a list, which is supposed to be sent to the town.

Nason said at the March 26 meeting that he had not seen the list, but he will be seeing it from now on. While the town certainly wants to receive payment for its ambulance service in order to support it, Nason said he does not want people to hesitate to call for an ambulance when they need one: that was a major concern when the outside billing service was adopted, and it was agreed that no major action would be taken to collect without a review by Fire-Rescue and the town.

The complaint Williams received was that the town should not have given up on collecting that much money.

Williams told selectmen that, in her view, the decision was justified for several reasons. To begin with the bills were old – more than 10 years old in some cases. She and Nason had gone over the list of names from 2003-09, noted that many had died or moved away and judged that the bills were uncollectible because some information was missing or incomplete.

She said that now that a system to make sure that the bill information comes to the town on a timely basis, there will be quick follow-up and settlement. As it is, the billing that is paid covers the cost of the service, so that taxpayers are not making up the difference. Finally, the $160,000 was already classified as bad debt, so there is no impact from the writeoff.

The board agreed with the points Williams made and stuck with its decision.

Liaison assignments

The board decided to make some changes in assignments for selectmen to serve as liaisons to departments and committees. After some discussion the liaison assignments were set as follows: Selectman Chair Ken Paul will be responsible for technology, trustees of the trust funds, administration/Town Hall, public works (highway and solid waste), and perambulation of town boundaries; Selectman Charlie Edwards will be responsible for the town budget committee, Wakefield Projects Inc., the conservation commission, public safety, water and sewer utilities, parks & recreation, school board liaison, and planning board alternate; and Selectman Connie Twombley will be responsible for the heritage commission, planning board, assessing, human services and the school budget.

Freight House move

Selectman Connie Twombley reported that PSNH informed the Heritage Commission that it did not need to tear down or move the Sanbornville freight house after all, so the proposed move to Turntable Park was off for now.

The commission had put much time and effort into plans for relocating the building and making it a Sanbornville museum, and that effort involved not only preparing the site but also getting permission from the state, which owns the land at Turntable Park and leases it to the town.

It was unclear whether the commission plans to pursue the project any further.

Other business

The truck that Road Agent Fred Clough recommended for purchase on March 26 had been sold before he could get back to the dealer, but he found another, newer truck for less through the state bid list. See separate story in this issue.

Selectman Twombley said she had received a complaint about some users of the transfer station, including big trucks, not having or displaying dump stickers. The board discussed the matter, including not having the manpower to check during busy times, but reached no conclusion.

Selectmen signed utility pole licenses for replacement poles on Route 153.

The MS-5 state report was received from the auditors. It shows the town is in good financial shape with $700,000 in unassigned funds available to keep the tax rate down.

Williams reported that painting has started outside after completion of painting upstairs. She also said she would like to work on plans for remodeling the hallway and vestibule: Paul suggested she review plans with Victor and Phil of WPI to develop specs for bidding.

The next meeting of the Wakefield Board of Selectmen will be on Wednesday, April 23, at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall meeting room.

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