PATTEN — Voters in Patten approved a municipal budget of $289,186 on Monday during their annual town meeting, a reduction of more than $23,000 from last year. But not without some controversy.
The town meeting lasted four hours, almost two hours of which was devoted to discussing the Patten Ambulance Service, according to Town Manager Paul Beattie on Wednesday.
Much of the debate centered on wages paid to emergency medical technicians, and the fact that accounts receivable for the service almost doubled from the previous year to more than $90,000.
The Patten ambulance provides service to seven towns and to unorganized townships in Aroostook and Penobscot counties. Salaries for six regular staff members plus some fill-in personnel last year came to $64,000. Individual salaries ranged from $600 to about $18,000.
With regard to accounts receivable, Town Manager Paul Beattie, who also serves as director of the ambulance service, said billing problems had developed because of the loss of a town office employee, his own lack of training regarding Medicare and Medicaid rules, and what he termed the “shear complexity” of the medical billing procedure.
As a result, he said, bills had not always been sent out on time, while others were rejected because of coding errors.
Voters subsequently turned down the recommended budget of $103,580 out of concern over the town’s inability to collect bills. That vote, however, meant that the ambulance service had no budget and therefore could not operate.
As such, the article was reconsidered and a figure of $93,580 was approved, with the understanding that the town would take immediate action to deal with the billing problem.
Voters also decided to eliminate the position of deputy bookkeeper-clerk, despite a recommendation by the town’s auditor, Chester M. Kearney, that the town do something to relieve the burden on town office staff who handle accounting.
In a letter to the selectmen, Kearney noted that staffing in the town’s accounting department was “not currently adequate to accomplish the required tasks. We strongly recommend that this be reviewed and that corrective action be taken as soon as possible.”
Normal staffing in the town office includes a clerk-bookkeeper and deputy clerk-bookkeeper. The deputy clerk has been performing the duties of the full-time clerk while that person has been out sick for more than six months.
Beattie said Wednesday that the deputy clerk would be able to continue filling in for the full-time clerk until that person was able to return to work.
Also at the meeting, an article asking whether the town should join a regional solid waste district was tabled on the recommendation of Beattie, who also serves as chairman of the regional waste committee.
He said that a final district budget had not been completed, and that possible state grants could affect final budget figures.
An undesignated fund balance of $20,000 was transferred into a transfer station-recycling center reserve to be used later for that facility.
During municipal elections that preceded the meeting, Carolyn Ryan was elected to a three-year term on the Board of Selectmen. She replaced her husband, Dennis, who had decided not to seek re-election.
Julie Riedel was elected to a three-year term on the SAD 25 board of directors, replacing Wanda Willett, who also did not seek re-election. Both women were unopposed.
Budget item This year Last year Change Ambulance 21,148 24,908 -3760 Animal control 1,616 1,616 0 Cemetery 1,000 1,000 0 Fire Department 17,885 15,575 2310 General assistance 3,000 3,000 0 General government 62,631 67,700 -5069 Boards/committees 1,975 1,975 0 Highways 36,230 36,230 0 Landfill 20,850 25,070 -4220 Veterans Mem. Library 10,200 12,000 -1800 Parks and Recreation 9,000 6,484.38 2515.62 Sewage disposal 1,400 0 Snow removal 60,500 64,500 -4000 Street lights 12,500 13,000 -500 Swimming program 1,000 1,000 0 Tax abatements 1,000 1,000 0 Road improvement reserve 12,000 12,000 0 Library building res. 4,000 4,000 0 Christmas decorations 500 500 0 Sewer project 0 2,324 -2324 Green Valley Assoc. 400 400 0 Eastern Agency on Aging 1,000 1,262 -262 Little League 100 100 0 Penquis CAP 980 1,536 -556 Me. Homemaker Service 1,500 2,015 -515 So. Aroos. Conserv. Dist. 100 0 100 No. Me. Regional Planning 1,671.42 1,624.36 47.06 Overlay 5,000 11,784 -6784 Totals 289186.42 312603.74 -23417.32