N.H. EMS startup a key issue in county commissioner race

The Republican challenger questions whether Cheshire EMS can be self-sustaining after it is launched with federal funds


By Ryan Spencer
The Keene Sentinel

KEENE, N.H. — An incumbent Cheshire County commissioner is facing a Republican challenger in Tuesday's general election, pitting a decades-long county resident against a relative newcomer.

Democrat Terry Clark, 67, of Keene, served three terms as a Keene city councilor and one as Cheshire County treasurer before being elected to a two-year term as commissioner in 2020. In Cheshire County District 2, which covers Keene, Marlborough and Roxbury, he is running for a four-year term against Anthony Ferrantello, 71, a retired architect who said he moved to Keene from Tarrytown, N.Y., about a year ago.

Cheshire County has spent $1.1 million in ARPA funds to purchase property and construct a home base for the new ambulance service there. Cheshire EMS, which is expected to be operational by next year, will be equipped with seven ambulances and a paramedic intercept vehicle, according to county officials, who have hired a chief to lead the department.
Cheshire County has spent $1.1 million in ARPA funds to purchase property and construct a home base for the new ambulance service there. Cheshire EMS, which is expected to be operational by next year, will be equipped with seven ambulances and a paramedic intercept vehicle, according to county officials, who have hired a chief to lead the department. (Photo/Greenwood EV)

Clark said he has achieved a lot in his time as commissioner, including helping launch Cheshire EMS, getting the county's community power plan off the ground and ensuring all county employees make at least $15 per hour while keeping taxes low.

Even with all the county has accomplished in the past two years, Clark said, in 2020 and 2021 the county budget resulted in just a 1.4 percent and 0.6 percent increase, respectively, in funds raised from property taxes.

"Republicans are saying, 'Look at our budget increase' — 'a huge budget increase under the Democrats' — but we've been able to get a lot of things done without raising taxes," Clark said.

All three of the current members of the county commission — a part-time elected body responsible primarily for overall supervision of county departments, buildings and land, as well as budgetary oversight — ran as Democrats.

But Ferrantello questions the county's decision to spend federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to launch Cheshire EMS, whether the ambulance service could be self-sustaining and the county's management of Maplewood Nursing Home in Westmoreland.

"I would suggest to you that the county leadership has failed these people," Ferrantello said, referring to county residents. "I'd like to go in there and say, 'Let's make this better, let's provide service with professionalism, integrity and get the results of having people be happy.' "

Earlier this year, the county spent $1.1 million in ARPA funds to purchase property in Swanzey and construct a home base for the new ambulance service there. Cheshire EMS, which is expected to be operational by next year, will be equipped with seven ambulances and a paramedic intercept vehicle, according to county officials, who hired a chief to lead the department in August.

County officials had originally pitched Cheshire EMS late last year as a public takeover of the privately operated DiLuzio Ambulance Service in Keene, but when that deal fell through, the county this spring moved forward on its own.

Clark said he has been hearing from fire chiefs and EMS providers in the region for years about the need for stronger ambulance services in Cheshire County. Once up and running, he said Cheshire EMS will operate as an enterprise fund, sustaining itself on revenues from contracts and fees and not drawing on tax funds.

"There was talk five years ago that our ambulance service in the county was in trouble," Clark said. "There were a lot of hiccups going on, and a lot of the chiefs and EMS people and the hospital were very concerned."

Ferrantello said that rather than spend the ARPA funds to build a centralized county EMS facility, he would have spent the money to prop up the salaries of those working at the county nursing home and distributed it to towns to buy their own ambulances. He said decentralized and privatized ambulance services would be better for the region and questioned whether Cheshire EMS can make enough revenue to sustain itself.

"I always go for the private sector," he said. "They can always provide services cheaper and better quality."

But Clark — noting that he has been strategizing with area towns on the EMS situation for longer than his opponent has lived in New Hampshire — said for-profit ambulance services have proven inadequate in Cheshire County and the EMS providers need help.

"It's very serious. We're talking about people's lives. We're not talking about partisan nonsense, whether the government should be involved in this, that or the other thing," Clark said. "I just don't think people who are against this have given it a whole lot of thought."

Ferrantello also said that Maplewood Nursing Home, which the county runs, is ailing, with only about 60 percent of the facility's 150 licensed beds filled. He suggested that paying nurses more could help retain staff so more beds could be occupied.

"You're not using 150 beds, so you're really not taking in the revenue you're supposed to; something is not right," he said. "If you're not paying [nurses] a living salary, they're going to go somewhere else."

Clark, however, said that Maplewood, while impacted by a shortage of nurses just like most other facilities, has operated well, even through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he is proud of how the county managed the nursing home, as well as the county jail, through the public health crisis.

"The way we treat our employees, they want to work there, they do a good job," he said.

Keeping young people in Cheshire County is another issue Ferrantello said he would focus on if elected commissioner. He said he would work with the Monadnock Economic Development Corp. and the Greater Keene and Peterborough Chamber of Commerce to incentivize manufacturers to come to the region and provide jobs to young people.

Clark touted his work to establish a community power plan for the county, and the grants the county has received to complete projects, such as upgrading the sheriff's communications infrastructure, at little to no cost to the taxpayer.

After much hard work, the county is well on its way to getting its community power plan approved and up and running, possibly as soon as next spring, Clark said.

Community power programs allow local governments — like municipalities and counties — rather than utility companies, to source electricity for residents. This gives municipalities and counties more control over the power supply, allowing them to seek lower-cost or greener options, while a utility continues to maintain transmission lines and deliver the electricity.

By being part of the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire, the county expects it will be able to buy out of its contract with its current energy provider, Freedom Energy, for a cheaper rate that may also tap into more sources of renewable energy, Clark said.

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