CALAIS, Maine — The City Council voted Thursday night to spend more than $400,000 to buy three ambulances as part of its plan to begin a city-owned ambulance service.
The winning bid was from Autotronics in Bangor, and includes two new ambulances and one used one. The city plans to borrow the money to cover the cost. The bid was $75,000 less than what City Manager Diane Barnes had planned to spend on the new fleet.
The council also approved $20,000 in startup costs.
Unhappy with the existing regional ambulance service, 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 Lubec to Whiting — serves on the authority’s board of directors. The three major players until now have been Calais, Eastport and Lubec.
Councilor Louis Bernardini explained that although the city was starting its own ambulance service, it would not exclude neighboring communities.
“I heard some people say, ‘Well, you are the big bad wolf and you are just are letting the rest of us hang out there,’ and that is not the purpose of it,” he said. “The purpose of the ambulance authority to begin with is to get the biggest bang for the buck for the Calais taxpayers, but we are not doing this to let everybody disappear and not have a service. So we will work with any surrounding communities that want to join to help us or whatever, but that has got to get out there. We are not going this alone; we are including everybody that wants to be included.”
Mayor Vinton Cassidy agreed.
“I do hope, too, that the authority will take some leadership to decide how they are going to do their thing. And I’m sure once they come up with some sort of an entity, we will be able to have some mutual agreements like we do with the fire departments and police departments,” he said.
But Brian Schuth, chairman of the authority, appeared less optimistic after the meeting.
“I am glad that the Calais City Council is so confident that things will work out all right in the end, but they’ve offered no model and it is going to be very difficult,” he said.
The problem is in the number of ambulance calls. The authority handles about 2,100 a year. Calais plans to take the lion’s share of those, “leaving the authority [with] 700 calls to run two bases [in Eastport and Lubec] over a much larger emergency area,” Schuth said.
He said there was enough money for the authority to operate through 2010, but he was less certain about the future.
“I can guarantee you there will be ambulance service in Eastport and Lubec. I think each of those communities will be able to put it together. It will probably cost more,” Schuth said. “There is a big question of how much other support we will be able to extend and how much back-up we will be able to give to the smaller com-munities.”
One criticism of the authority over the years has been that the three largest communities have picked up the bulk of the cost.
“I think you have a responsibility when you are a population center, particularly in a community like this, to step up if you have the resources to step up. And Eastport and Lubec have always been willing to do that. Calais’ stipends, the amount that was paid in cash to keep [the authority] going, was $93,500, and Eastport and Lubec essentially paid the same amount but for much smaller populations,” Schuth said.