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Ambulance

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We can’t help but notice while commuting to work or on the road to cover a story that many people aren’t yielding the right of way to emergency vehicles which race to help our neighbors. It’s a complaint we’ve heard from our fellow drivers as well as the men and women who dedicate their time to making our communities a safer and better place to live.

Whether on a congested road or one where traffic is flowing freely, not yielding to a fire truck, police car or ambulance with their lights flashing and sirens blaring could lead to firefighters not being able to rescue the occupants of a burning house or a heart attack victim not being saved.

For decades, the main rules have remained simple — slow down and pull to the right of the road parallel to the curb and stop when you see an emergency vehicle with its lights and siren on near the vicinity of your vehicle. Don’t merge back into traffic until all emergency vehicles have passed, unless a police officer if present tells you otherwise. Of course, rules suggest motorists keep clear of any intersection and not tailgate a fire truck in hopes of bypassing all the other drivers who are trying to merge back into traffic.

For years now, in New York state, drivers must also be mindful of emergency or hazard vehicles, such as tow trucks, that are parked, stopped or standing along the side of a road. Called the Move Over Law, drivers are required to slow down and move over a lane away from the vehicle if it’s safe to do so.

Of course, many people are familiar with the laws, and others may not necessarily be breaking them on purpose. Car cabins today are made to keep outside noise to a minimum, so it was no surprise to us when we learned that many local fire departments are using horns with a deeper bass feature so drivers can feel them in addition to hearing them — if they hear them.

Sometimes, it comes down to being more mindful while sharing the road with both other vehicles and the people in the big red-and-white trucks with lights flashing.

Not hearing these sirens can also be attributed to car stereos or from people enjoying their music with earbuds. There is also the case of drivers distracted with their cellphones or when texting, even though it’s illegal.

As the weather gets warmer, and more people will be out on the road trying to enjoy all the Island has to offer, we encourage our readers to reacquaint themselves with the rules of the road or pay closer attention to other vehicles. If you’re already well versed in the laws, have a conversation with others in your life, especially younger ones who are not as familiar with the rules.

The main goal is to make it easier for our emergency workers because if it were our house or life they were saving, or that of a loved one, we would want them to get to us as quickly as possible.

Centereach Fire Department teamed up with Operation Christmas Child to collect shoeboxes filled with gifts to be donated to needy children. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

It wasn’t quite Santa’s sleigh, but it was large, red and carried presents, so an ambulance was good enough for the Selden Fire Department, which took over Santa’s duties last week and stuffed 100 shoeboxes with gifts for poor young children all over the world.

Volunteers help fill a Selden Fire Department
ambulance with shoeboxes for Operation Christmas
Child. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Most of these boxes are going to go to kids who never even get a gift,” Selden Fire Department Treasurer Vincent Ammirati said. “This is something that will put a smile on a face, and this is the fire department — everything we do here is for other people. All we do is try put a smile on people’s faces.”

The shoeboxes were collected as part of Operation Christmas Child, a function of the evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse. The organization takes the shoeboxes from drop-off points in local churches before sending them to distribution centers that will ship them to poor communities in Africa, South America, Asia and others. The shoeboxes are labeled by age and gender, and usually contain toys like inflatable soccer balls or stuffed animals, but mostly they contain hygiene products like soap and toothbrushes along with school supplies like books and pencils.

All seven companies within the Selden Fire Department helped contribute to the stack, with some companies acting as a group and other members of the fire department contributing indipendently.

Children in Uganda receive shoeboxes of gifts from
Operation Christmas Child last year. Photo from
Danielle McCarthy

Volunteer firefighter and Operation Christmas Child Long Island Coordinator Danielle McCarthy headed the fire department’s collection drive. She said she got the idea of filling an ambulance full of shoeboxes from watching the Los Angeles Police Department and how a funeral home had pulled in with a hearse full of shoe boxes.

McCarthy has been involved with Operation Christmas Child for more than a decade, first packing boxes before becoming a local packing leader, and then area coordinator. In 2012 McCarthy travelled to Uganda to help hand out shoeboxes.

“As we put shoe boxes into their hands and they opened up those boxes I saw their delight,” she said. “To look at them having physical needs met, to be able to see the joy that came to them from these simple things like school supplies and toys and that sort of thing, that impacted me. But what really impacted me even more, and what keeps me packing shoeboxes, were all the kids standing outside the place who didn’t get shoeboxes because there wasn’t enough to give to everybody.”

Shoeboxes for Operation Christmas
Child were collected with gifts to be
donated to needy children.
Photo by Kyle Barr

Every box also comes with a picture book called “The Greatest Gift,” put inside after each is packed. The book depicts a number of biblical stories told in that country’s native language. There was a $9 fee for every package, which pays for both the book and shipping costs. The fire department pulled together $900 to go toward this cost.

“Every one of these shoeboxes to us is not just a gift that we’re giving to a child, but around Christmas time Jesus is a gift we try to give, too,” said Victor Rossomano, an Operation Christmas Child Suffolk County-area coordinator. “It’s in their language and their culture. We try to keep it within their culture; we try not to send America to them, we want them to be who they are.”

Ammirati helped McCarthy drive the shoeboxes to the drop-off point at the Grace Gospel Church in Patchogue. He said he plans on using his officer status with the Suffolk County Volunteer Fireman’s Association to try and spread the idea out to all the different fire departments in the county.

“It’s a great way to show our community presence with the fire department and also for Operation Christmas Child,” McCarthy said. “It’s taken a few years to get this rolling, but when we challenged the fire department to fill the ambulance, as you can see, the guys stepped up.”

The 100 boxes kicked off national collection week, which ran from Nov. 13 to 20. In 2009, Suffolk County gathered 7,100 boxes, but the number has grown. The group is hoping to have 20,000 boxes packed this year

Huntington Town Hall. File photo by Rohma Abbas

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Huntington homeowners can anticipate to see taxes increase in 2018, but town officials have pieced together a plan that won’t require piercing the state tax cap as opposed to 2017.

Huntington Town’s budget will slide in just under the state-mandated 1.84 percent tax levy increase cap with its proposed $194 million spending plan for 2018..

Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) presented his last and final budget proposal at the Sept. 15 town board meeting, calling for a $4.2 million spending increase compared to 2017.

The single largest driving factor behind the town’s budget hike is high health care costs for town employees, according to Petrone. Town personnel salaries and benefits “is the single biggest influence on municipal budgets,” reads the proposed 2018 budget, citing it accounts for more than 50 percent of the town’s major expenditures. The state has predicted health care insurance premiums will rise by 8.3 percent, which would cost the town an additional $22.5 million in 2018.

To help cut back these costs, Petrone has proposed to reduce the number of full-time town employees through attrition for a second year. So far this year, the town has eliminated six positions, for a savings of $400,000 in paid salaries and benefits, according to town spokesman A.J. Carter.

“I continue to advocate for changes to the Tax Cap Act that will allow the Town of Huntington to expand upon existing successful programs such as the continuation of the Town Open Space Bond Act.”

— Frank Petrone

Successful changes in two of the town’s ambulance districts — Huntington and Commack — will result in residents seeing decreased taxes for ongoing services. Commack Volunteer Ambulance Corps began billing patients’ insurance companies in 2016, a move that was followed by Huntington this year and resulted in a significant increase to its revenue. Carter said residents without health care insurance will not be billed by either company, as those costs continue to be covered by the town.

The preliminary budget calls for $16.6 million in capital spending on local projects, holding steady at 2017 levels. These capital projects include $3.75 million to begin construction of the James E. Conte Community Center at the former Armory in Huntington Station and $3 million to construct a new animal shelter adjacent to Mill Dam Park in Halesite.

Town officials have already unveiled plans to build its first of two spray parks, or interactive water playgrounds, in 2018 — one in Elwood Park in memory of New York City Police Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo who was killed in the line of duty in 2017, and one next to the Conte Community Center.

Other major projects included in the 2018 preliminary budget are improvements to Manor Park in Huntington Station, restoration of the waterfront bulkheads in Halesite and $1 million toward improvement of the Huntington sewers.

In issuing his final budget, Petrone called for changes to the state’s Tax Cap Act.

“I continue to advocate for changes to the Tax Cap Act that will allow the Town of Huntington to expand upon existing successful programs, such as the continuation of the Town Open Space Bond Act, and to develop new economic drivers, like the formation of special improvement districts which deal with issue-specific concerns and solutions, and the establishment of new Business Improvement Districts to further enhance our small business communities,” the supervisor said.

Petrone called for specific programs or capital projects to be approved by voters in a town referendum vote, then excluded from tax cap calculations, otherwise he feared programs could be discontinued to stay under the cap.

For 2017, Petrone got residents’ support in piercing the tax cap by approving a 2.85 percent tax increase for his $191 million budget. The supervisor had claimed it was necessary in order to maintain the town’s services along with social, youth and art programs without severe cuts.

Residents will have the chance to share their input on the proposed 2018 budget at the Oct. 17 town board meeting.

Photo from HCFAS

Emergency medical workers rushed on Tuesday to rescue a young man who had been hit by a car just feet from their station.

The Huntington Community First Aid Squad said an “agitated young man” in front of its Huntington Station headquarters got the attention of the on-duty dispatcher at about 3:45 p.m. and pointed to the nearby intersection of Railroad Street and Lowndes Avenue. Several members at that point could see another person lying motionless in the street, and the squad dispatched an ambulance and a first-responder vehicle to the intersection.

The crew found an unconscious and unresponsive male around 18 years old who had been hit by a vehicle while trying to cross the street, the HCFAS said in a statement. “The crew members quickly immobilized the victim and performed a trauma examination.”

After being moved to the ambulance, the victim regained consciousness, the HCFAS said, and could communicate with the EMTs. According to the squad, he had possibly suffered a head injury.

The victim was transported to Huntington Hospital.

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The Port Jefferson Volunteer Ambulance Company serves Port Jefferson, Belle Terre and Mount Sinai. File photo

Village officials have blocked the local ambulance company from billing residents for service, three months after an explosive debate on the practice.

A few residents argued during a Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees meeting in November that it was unfair, after paying ambulance district taxes, they received bills for ambulance rides when their insurance companies either denied a claim or left them with a hefty deductible to pay. But the board insisted such bills were not the intention of the plan enacted several years ago to help their emergency medical organization recoup expenses.

Faced with rising costs in the ambulance district — which includes Port Jefferson, Belle Terre and Mount Sinai — the board authorized the Port Jefferson Volunteer Ambulance Company to bill patients’ insurance companies for service within their jurisdiction, using the collected funds to offset ambulance taxes.

The bills being sent later on to patients, according to PJVAC Deputy Chief Rob Stoessel, originated because his group and its third-party billing company are obligated to ask for the balance if the insurance does not cover the entire cost. In November he described the requirement as a “good faith attempt.”

Before insurance, the fee on a call for emergency medical care is $900, with an additional $18 for each mile the ambulance transports a patient. Stoessel said that amount takes into consideration both medical and nonmedical expenses like gasoline.

Both he and Mayor Margot Garant agreed that when the billing program was created, the idea was for patients to receive three notices for bills, with no consequences for not paying — as the ambulance company does not have a mechanism for collections.

“The insurance companies, God bless them — collect every nickel from them,” Garant said in November. But “we didn’t want the resident to be pursued for any of the fees.”

Residents who received the bills complained that wasn’t common knowledge, and they were concerned about their credit ratings.

Monica Williams was denied Medicare coverage for her treatment.

“I don’t really think that any village resident … should be looking at a bill like that,” Williams said in November. “It’s surprising. It’s disappointing.”

She called it “being billed for the same thing twice.”

But Williams saw a solution on Monday night, when the Board of Trustees voted to ban the ambulance company from billing residents.

The previous law that allowed the company “to bill, directly, village residents for the use of its ambulance services … is hereby rescinded,” according to the measure members approved at their meeting. It also forgives all unpaid balances currently hanging against residents.

PJVAC will still be able to collect funds from the insurance companies.

Garant said there would be consequences “if we hear of any resident getting any more collection documents from the ambulance [district].”

Port Jefferson residents say taxes should cover cost of medical care

The ambulance company serves Port Jefferson, Belle Terre and Mount Sinai. File photo

A presentation about the service of the Port Jefferson Volunteer Ambulance Company devolved into an argument about perceived unfair billing practices on Monday night, with residents, village officials and the ambulance company’s deputy chief going back and forth for an hour.

A few villagers are in a lather over the process for recouping expenses after an ambulance ride through a billing program that began a handful of years ago. Faced with rising costs in the ambulance district — which also serves Belle Terre and Mount Sinai — Port Jefferson Village officials authorized the emergency medical organization to bill insurance companies for service within their jurisdiction, with the funds offsetting local ambulance taxes.

The friction that heated up Monday night’s Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees meeting built around cases when an insurance company denied a claim or the patient had a hefty deductible — thus obligating the ambulance service and its third-party billing company to send a tab to that patient, according to PJVAC Deputy Chief Rob Stoessel.

Two residents who received such bills, Monica Williams and Mary Moore, expressed their dissatisfaction over the matter, saying the taxes they pay each year to the ambulance district should be enough and also complaining about the price tag.

“I’m paying my ambulance district tax,” Williams said. “I don’t really think that any village resident … should be looking at a bill like that. It’s surprising. It’s disappointing.”

She called it “being billed for the same thing twice.”

Before insurance, Stoessel said, the fee on a call for emergency medical care is $900, with an additional $18 for each mile the ambulance transports a patient.

“We went based on other agencies, other 911 services throughout the region,” he said about how the ambulance company arrived at that figure. “We went on what it cost us to provide the service,” including non-medical expenses like gasoline.

The deputy chief said the ambulance service and its billing company is required to make a “good faith attempt” to solicit deductibles from patients or whatever costs are associated with a trip that an insurance company denies coverage for.

According to comments from the residents, Williams was denied Medicare coverage for her treatment and Moore has a high deductible.

Mayor Margot Garant insisted it was not the board’s intention, when it authorized the ambulance company to bill insurance, to pass large bills along to residents.

“We didn’t want the resident to be pursued for any of the fees,” she said. But “the insurance companies, God bless them — collect every nickel from them.”

Although the mayor and Stoessel rejected responsibility, debating whether the billing was a village program or an ambulance program, they agreed that the idea was for patients to receive three notices for bills and there would be no consequences for not paying, as the ambulance company does not have a mechanism for collections.

But there was debate from the public about whether that was common knowledge in the village, or whether not paying would affect someone’s credit rating.

According to Garant, village officials are working out a method of waiving costs that would otherwise be passed along to patients — to limit the ambulance company to recouping costs only from insurance companies. She said that measure could be ready for approval by the next board meeting in two weeks.

Port Jefferson is not the only area with the idea of using insurance companies to offset taxpayer dollars. The Commack Volunteer Ambulance Corps argued recently that billing private insurance companies for patient care would ultimately save taxpayer dollars for constituents. At an August work session in Smithtown, Tom Lowenberg of the Commack VAC said insurance reimbursements are a resource utilized typically at private ambulance companies, but not as much by volunteer groups.

Squad says it services highest call volume in town

Huntington Community First Aid Squad is the subject of a recent study. File photo

A report shows that Huntington Community First Aid Squad is requesting more help from neighboring fire departments than any other ambulance service in Huntington.

According to the report, commissioned by Huntington Town, five volunteer fire departments in the town approached town officials about an increase in requests from the Huntington ambulance squad to respond to calls in the squad’s service area.

HCFAS made more requests for ambulance support than those five departments combined, according to the report.

In a phone interview this week, Alyssa Axelrod, vice president of HCFAS, said that the study is misleading because it does not mention that the squad receives more calls than the five other departments combined.

HCFAS was formed in 1967 as a nonprofit and is the only exclusive volunteer ambulance program in the town. The taxpayers and Huntington Town fund the squad’s operations.

The chiefs at the respective fire departments started noticing an increase in requests starting in 2013, according to the study.

Huntington Town responded to those concerns by hiring Medic Health to assess the operational practices of HCFAS and provide recommendations to reduce the number of requests to neighboring fire departments and ambulance squads.

The study began in June 2014. Consultants worked with the Huntington ambulance squad, representatives of Suffolk County Fire Rescue and Emergency Services and Huntington Town to gather and analyze information.

The study found instances where HCFAS was understaffed during certain shifts.

In one graph, the study shows times of the day and days of the week where current staffing levels, which is a minimum of two staffed ambulances, may not be sufficient to cover the community’s demand. The study states that 1 and 5 p.m. are the two times of the day where resources are lacking the most, during six out of the seven days of the week, according to the study. Saturday from 1 to 7 p.m. is the busiest.

Currently the HCFAS services Huntington Town with a minimum of two on-duty ambulance crews based at the station for daytime shifts, and one crew for overnight shifts, according to Axelrod.

The study also highlighted a problem caused by the staff being made up entirely of volunteers.

Commitments from volunteers varied considerably for overnight and daytime coverage, according to the study. The report stated that 17 percent of the planned shifts had an insufficient number of members to staff the desired two ambulances. A chart showed the number of ambulances the HCFAS can field during different shifts based on member commitment. Friday, Saturday and Sunday overnight shifts only have enough member commitments to staff one or fewer ambulances, according to the chart. This is the same for 7 to 11:00 a.m. shifts on Friday and 3 to 7 p.m. shifts on Friday and Saturday.

Although there is no official time for how quickly an ambulance should respond to a call, organizations have given time limits to respond to life-threatening calls.

The Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services said a total response time standard of eight minutes and fifty-nine seconds is expected for life-threatening calls.

In 2014, the HCFAS was able to be on the scene to 62 percent of their calls within eight minutes of the call receipt, 76 percent within 10 minutes and 89 percent within 15 minutes. According to the study, 11 percent of the calls required more than 15 minutes for an ambulance to arrive on the scene.

If an ambulance can’t respond to the scene, mutual aid requests come into play.

Mutual aid requests were designed to allow surrounding departments to assist each other during times of unusual demand for services, like mass casualty situations or disasters. Volunteer-based organizations like HCFAS also resort to mutual aid requests when they are unable to muster sufficient resources to staff an ambulance and respond to a call.

During the first five months of 2015, HCFAS requested mutual aid 41 times compared to 23 times by all the adjacent departments.

The study concludes with eight recommendations for the HCFAS to reduce its mutual aid requests. They include employing dedicated staff to provide coverage for shifts that are too difficult to staff with current volunteer squad members, restructuring the recruitment and orientation process to reduce time investment for prospective members, and more.

It also states Huntington Town should mandate the submission of monthly performance measurements, including response time performance reports and establishing response time expectations.

Axelrod said she believes that there is a misunderstanding about what this study is about.

“We are a busy department,” Axelrod said. “This year we will do 60,000 calls. We’re stripped of our percentage of calls we get in this report. The report doesn’t show that we respond to more calls than the five other departments combined.”

She said this makes the report confusing, but there were helpful discoveries and some recommendations that HCFAS wants to integrate moving forward, according to Axelrod.

She said the squad is changing how it brings in members as it’s currently a lengthy process.

“The process is steeped in caution,” Axelrod said. “We are very careful when we vet people before we let them ride in an ambulance.”

She also said the squad has considered non-volunteers, and has added a line item to their budget for 2016 to add paid personnel. According to Axelrod, the squad’s budget for this year will be cut by 15 percent, so they will have to look into other funds if they want to hire employees.

“The bottom line is we do a great job and these other departments do a great job,” Axelrod said. “But when you take out the number of calls we respond to, it makes us look deficient.”

File photo

The Huntington Community First Aid Squad responded to an emergency call on Saturday morning after a crash between a motorcycle and a car on East Jericho Turnpike in Huntington Station, near Longfellow Drive.

While on the way to the scene, the ambulance personnel learned that both the motorcycle and its motorcyclist were on fire, the ambulance company said.

When they arrived on scene, the responders found a conscious man complaining of pain to his right leg, and he had severe burns on about 10 percent of his body.

According to the ambulance company, the responders hooked up the man to an IV and gave him pain medication on the way to Nassau University Medical Center.

The road was closed in both directions while the scene was cleaned up.

File photo

The Commack Volunteer Ambulance Corps is running out of credit, and is calling on the Smithtown Town Board to help them change the way they sustain cash.

Director Rich O’Brien and chief Tom Lowenberg of the Commack VAC spoke before the Town Board at a work session on Tuesday morning with hopes of swaying the town to help them seek new ways to collect revenue and, hopefully, save taxpayer dollars for both Smithtown and Huntington residents who utilize the service.

O’Brien pitched a plan that would essentially bill private insurance companies for patient care, which he said would ultimately reduce the amount of money both towns would need to allocate to the group on an annual basis.

When a resident receives care through the Commack VAC, O’Brien said the group would then submit a patient care report to the hospital, which would gather insurance information on the patient, and then the VAC would bill the insurance company for reimbursement of costs, which could be as high as $1,000 on any given call. If a resident does not have insurance, he said the group would establish a plan in which they could pay for the services they received.

O’Brien said his group’s call volume has been steadily increasing to nearly 3,600 calls each year, but revenues have not matched the growth to accommodate activities.

“This is simply the most practical way to save taxpayer money,” O’Brien said. “Commack is growing, and if you look at the Commack division between Smithtown and Huntington, our calls are coming in around 60 percent Smithtown and 40 percent Huntington.”

The director said the group had been advised to borrow money to keep it afloat, but rising debt costs have left the VAC at what O’Brien and Lowenberg called a plateau.

“We started borrowing, but our operating budget has suffered,” Lowenberg said.

In order to reduce taxpayer dollars, O’Brien said Commack should follow suit of other volunteer ambulance corps across Long Island to seek financial reimbursements from residents’ insurance companies, and use the money to help expand the services and also leave the group less reliant on town money.

Lowenberg said insurance company reimbursements were an untapped resource utilized typically at private ambulance companies, but not as much by volunteer groups.

He also said new revenues would help the VAC fund a fifth ambulance vehicle and potentially expand into a new space near Commack Road and New Highway.

The 2015 adopted budget for Smithtown allocated $1,001,435 for the entire Commack Ambulance District.

Smithtown Comptroller Donald Musgnug said he has been working with the VAC to comb through the numbers and assess the best plan of action. He said insurance company money could potentially be what might eventually allow Commack’s VAC to stand on its own without the town’s taxpayer money to sustain it.

“It does seem to be a legal form of service they could do,” he said. “Clearly, there is a need for good volunteer ambulance corps service. Looking long-range, it stabilizes taxes to the district and would result in a decrease. It definitely should be pursued.”

The Commack group would still need Huntington Town to sign onto the plan in order to make it practical, Musgnug said, and town officials there have been vetting the proposal for future consideration.

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Port Jefferson Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Now it’s up to the voters.

Port Jefferson school board members adopted a 2015-16 budget on Tuesday night that would raise the tax rate 1.62 percent, matching the state-imposed cap on how much it can increase.

The $42.4 million budget proposal has not changed much since it was first presented to the community earlier this year. It would increase staffing levels — bringing in additional teachers for English as a second language, a groundskeeper and teaching assistants — and put $1.25 million toward constructing a new elevator at the district high school.

The elevator project is so costly because in order to build a lift that is up to code, the district will have to construct a wider elevator shaft as well as new lobbies on each floor.

Another driver of the budget increase is funding to have an ambulance present at Port Jefferson lacrosse and football games, a safety measure proposed in response to the death of a Shoreham-Wading River High School student-athlete following a football game against John Glenn High School in the fall.

But it won’t be all increases — the school district is expecting to see a 4 percent decrease in state teachers’ retirement system contributions next year.

Although the tax levy would only go up 1.62 percent, the budget-to-budget increase would top 5 percent, due to staffing and capital costs. However, Assistant Superintendent for Business Sean Leister explained during a budget presentation on Tuesday, the district would draw $1.3 million from its debt service fund to offset the increase. That fund contains leftover monies from completed bond projects.

If voters approve the budget in May, the tax rate would increase to $144.67 for every $100 of assessed value on a property.

Also on the ballot will be a proposition to create a new capital reserve fund aimed at replacing roofs at the three schools. Leister said the district would put surplus dollars leftover at the end of each school year into the new capital reserve fund to support roof replacements, which would be staggered so that those new roofs don’t eventually have to be replaced all at once.

According to Leister’s presentation, the district would need a community vote to use money from the fund, once it is established.

The district will hold a budget hearing on May 12 in the high school auditorium.

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