CHEBEAGUE ISLAND — Residents hope the Legislature will approve a bill that would exempt the island’s nonprofit ferry from paying sales tax for its new vessel.

Unlike air- and land-based ambulances, the ferry, which also serves as a waterborne ambulance, must pay the sales tax.

The bill under consideration, LD 124, was sponsored by Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, whose district includes Chebeague.

The Taxation Committee held a public hearing on the bill April 24. Cooper said committee members “paid very close attention to the testimony, which included some very moving, compelling stories of lives being saved” by the ability of the ferry to act as an ambulance when needed.

The Taxation Committee was scheduled to meet in a work session Wednesday, May 1, after The Forecaster’s deadline, to discuss the exemption for the Chebeague Transportation Co.

CTC Vice President Susan Stranahan said this week that passage of the bill could save the nonprofit service from having to pay about $63,000 in sales tax on its new boat, the $1.1 million Independence, which the company expects will be delivered sometime this summer.

CTC, she said, charges no fees to either patients or insurance companies for the ambulance service, even though each run between Chebeague and the mainland costs the company about $200. Overall, CTC provides emergency medical transport for about 65 people annually, Stranahan said.

“The ferry acts as a critical bridge between Chebeague and the Yarmouth ambulance that picks up the patient at the Cousins Island dock,” Cooper said this week.

She stepped in to sponsor the bill after CTC was unable to get satisfaction from the Maine Revenue Service, which told the ferry company it could be several years before it could create any exemptions for waterborne ambulance services.

Stranahan said the CTC ferry is the only link between Chebeague and the mainland and the crew is on standby 24/7 “to transport sick or injured islanders to Yarmouth.”

“Rescues take precedence over any other use of the ferry, day or night,” she added. “The ferry engine is (always) running and the crew is ready to go when the Chebeague ambulance pulls onto Stone Wharf.”

Stranahan said in designing its new ferry, CTC “made special efforts to accommodate a stretcher and provide ample room for EMTs to tend to those being transported.”

She said when a 911 call is placed to Chebeague’s emergency department, the ferry crew is also alerted. “If the island EMTs believe that transportation to the mainland is required, the crew is waiting on board, ready to go.”

When the Chebeague EMTs arrive at Stone Wharf, the patient and island EMTs board the ferry, which immediately heads to the wharf on Cousins Island, where a Yarmouth ambulance, also alerted by Chebeague EMTs, is waiting.

During the Taxation Committee public hearing last week, island resident Beverly Ross Murray testified to how critical the ferry ambulance service was in saving the life of her mother in 2008.

“Living on an island is a wonderful thing, but it can be hard and challenging, especially when there is an emergency,” Murray said in her testimony. “Chebeague Transportation Co. is our lifeline – sometimes in a very literal sense.”

CTC was created to provide reliable transportation to and from the island, according to the company website, and the ferry now carries more than 12,000 passengers a month.

Selectman David Hill, who once managed CTC, told the Taxation Committee that “this nonprofit service … is totally self-sufficient, relying on passenger fares for operating expenses.”

“(So), it’s only logical that (an) exemption should be extended to include sales tax on a vessel that is so critical to the preservation of life on a remote island,” he said.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Chebeague Transportation Co. is seeking a sales tax exemption from the state for the purchase of a new ferry, which, like The Islander, will be used when necessary as an ambulance.

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