Huntington TM OKs overrides for library, ambulance service

  • Karen Wittshirk, chair of the board of trustees of the Huntington Public Library, after the annual Town Meeting where the Proposition 2½ override to fund the library passed. Contributed Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 6/8/2022 7:49:35 PM
Modified: 6/8/2022 7:47:28 PM

HUNTINGTON — Proposition 2½ overrides to fund the library and ambulance service operations easily passed at Monday’s annual Town Meeting.

The library override is $86,328 while the ambulance service override is $58,777. Both also passed overwhelmingly in a special town election on Saturday.

“We really needed that extra money,” Select Board Chairman Edward Renauld said after the meeting, held in a packed Stanton Hall.

For the average Huntington residential property, valued at $238,600, the overrides will mean a permanent $147.93 increase in yearly tax bills.

Renauld said money from the overrides will leave the town with a good base of free cash for next fiscal year. Had the override failed, the library would have been forced to close on July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, unless other town funding was appropriated.

Karen Wittshirk, chair of the board of trustees of the Huntington Public Library, said that she would be displaying a “Thank You” sign outside of her home.

“It’s going on the corner tomorrow morning,” she said, speaking just after the meeting.

Had the ambulance override failed, the town would have had to fund it from another source to comply with the state’s requirement that communities provide ambulance service.

John McVeigh, a former selectman and a former employee of Hilltown Community Ambulance, spoke against the ambulance override on Town Meeting floor, blasting the performance of Hilltown, which the town has a contract with, and the conditions its workers operate under.

“Would you want to work and sleep where ambulances are leaving and backing in and out, no dividing wall to separate you from CO or cancer-causing emissions?” McVeigh said.

McVeigh also criticized the staffing levels at Hilltown and the outgoing director, saying that he thought they were hired as a working director and that no one had seen them working on a truck for almost three years.

“If Hilltown Community Ambulance is to survive, the new incoming director needs to step up and be a part of the team,” McVeigh said.

Angela Mulkerin, Hilltown’s outgoing director, said that her job is now an office job — although she has gone out on calls in the last three years and maintains her paramedic certification. Mulkerin has been director since 2016, and informed the board last year that she would be leaving the nonprofit in 2022.

Mulkerin did say, however, that the conditions for workers at Hilltown are inadequate. “The space is not suited for what we need,” she said.

She also said that the ambulances are a constant source of worry.

“Really what this comes down to is funding levels,” she said, explaining that the communities that Hilltown serves do not have enough money to provide the nonprofit everything that it needs, and that she and the board have focused on putting their funding into payroll so as to attract “people who know what they’re doing.”

Mulkerin also said that Hilltown has “never once had a complaint about how we treat our patients.”

Renauld said a lot of what McVeigh complained about was accurate, and that Hilltown has claimed it is moving in the right direction and has hired a new director. Additionally, he said the alternative to funding the ambulance service would be for Huntington to create its own service, which he said it is not fiscally able to.

“We’re require to provide ambulance response service,” Renauld said. “We have to have it.”

He also said that he’s personally willing to give Hilltown Community Ambulance a year to improve.

In total, the budget passed by Town Meeting for fiscal 2023 is a little more than $6 million, an approximately 5.8% increase from fiscal 2022. This number includes the two overrides.

Most of that increase is being driven by increased school costs due to more students from Huntington attending Gateway Regional School District.

All 23 articles of the warrant were passed with the exception of Article 16, which would have accepted a revised Gateway Regional School District agreement. It was passed over at the meeting because the town of Montgomery had already rejected the change, making action from Huntington on the issue moot.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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