Calais stands by its ambulance plan

Posted March 02, 2009, at 9:09 p.m.

CALAIS, Maine — The city still plans to go it alone and operate its own ambulance service even though the regional ambulance authority said last week it might be cheaper for the city to remain part of the group.

Mayor Vinton Cassidy said at a meeting of the Calais City Council last Thursday that the city was ready to begin its ambulance service July 1.

After months of debate, the councilors in February voted to leave the Washington County Emergency Medical Services Authority, a quasi-municipal entity that oversees Downeast EMS ambulance operations.

A resident from each of the more than 15 service communities — from Eastport to Calais and from Lubec to Whiting — serves on the authority’s board of directors. The three major players until now have been Calais, Eastport and Lubec.

Although grant money was expected to cover capital costs when the ambulance service started, it did not materialize. Calais, Eastport and Lubec bankrolled the $800,000 equipment startup costs. The authority contracted with the Bangor Fire Department to handle its billing. All revenues from the ambulance service go to the WCEMSA and are distributed to member towns.

Last year, Calais councilors, unhappy with how much the regional service was costing the city, directed City Manager Diane Barnes to look into Calais starting its own ambulance service. Barnes put together a 22-page business plan that showed how the city could start its own service. After reviewing the plan, the council voted at its Feb. 12 meeting to withdraw from the authority and start its own ambulance service.

“I personally don’t see any chance of us not continuing with our plan. Our concerns are the citizens of Calais,” the mayor said at last Thursday’s meeting. The city has already begun to hire staff and buy equipment.

After the city decided to leave the authority, it sent letters to surrounding communities saying that the city would happily contract with them to operate their ambulance service. Most of the communities contacted belong to the authority.

Brian Schuth, the newly appointed chairman of WCEMSA, attended the Calais council meeting Thursday night. He said he would like to sit down with the city manager to talk about the financial issues that prompted Calais to leave the authority.

Schuth said the authority had re-examined its budget and had new figures that would demonstrate how attractive it would be for Calais to remain within the authority. However, he said, if the two sides can’t reach an agreement within 30 days, the authority would walk away.

Although the mayor appeared adamant that the city not reconsider its decision, Councilor Louis Bernardini said he wanted to hear what the authority had to say.

The councilors agreed that Barnes would meet with Schuth.

After the meeting, the mayor was asked if the councilors would reconsider their decision if the authority came up with a better financial deal. Cassidy said he did not believe the numbers would change that much. “I just didn’t want to give him false hope that we will change our mind,” he said.

The mayor said he believed the city could save $200,000 by operating its own service.

But Schuth said after the meeting that he was confident the authority could come up with numbers that would be in the best interest of the authority and Calais.

He said there were cost-saving areas that would make it more attractive for Calais to remain with the authority. “I feel confident that we can come back with something that will save Calais money [and] that will preserve ambulance service to the whole region,” he said. He said he looked forward to working with the city manager.

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