February 27

Gardiner city manager delays new public safety proposal

City Manager Scott Morelli said he and city staff are figuring out why revenues in the ambulance service budget don’t appear to be as high as expected.

By Paul Koenig pkoenig@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

GARDINER — Gardiner City Manager Scott Morelli didn’t present a new plan to cut the cost of the city’s ambulance service to City Council on Wednesday night, because of concern about the program’s revenue.

Morelli said he’s not moving forward with his previous proposal to merge the police and fire chief roles and create a combined deputy fire chief and code enforcement officer position. The plan faced opposition at the last two council meetings from councilors who voiced concerns about the shrunken code enforcement position and the ability of someone to handle those duties while also serving in the deputy fire chief role.

That plan that would have saved the city almost $28,000 in its general fund and allowed the city to lower amounts charged to partner communities for its ambulance service, but Morelli said he’ll be presenting an alternative as soon as the next council meeting, on Wednesday, that would accomplish both those savings goals.

The city plans to move forward with hiring a full-time code enforcement officer. Morelli expects the hiring process for that position, which has been filled on a part-time basis since November, to be complete in around two months.

Morelli wouldnt give the details of the alternative plan yet, saying only that the fire chief’s position will be involved. Fire Chief Mike Minkosky is expected to step down in March.

Councilor Philip Hart said he was expecting the council to be able to help develop the proposal, but Mayor Thomas Harnett said he thinks that is Morelli’s role, not the councilors’.

“I think it is within the purview of the city manager to present us with proposals and we consider those proposals, but I don’t think it’s our role to get in the minutiae of developing those policies,” Harnett said.

The new proposal is being be shelved until the next council meeting or later to allow the city staff to figure out why revenue for the ambulance budget doesn’t appear to be as much as expected, Morelli said.

He said it’s not clear whether there is an actual deficit in the budget or there is just a delay in the bills coming in.

“We just don’t have our heads around it,” Morelli said Wednesday morning. “This is mostly what we’ve been doing for the past few days: What happened, and is this a problem or not?”

The city brought in a new public safety administrative assistant last fall, and the previous person in the position had done the revenue projections.

Morelli said the city considered switching from using an outside firm for the ambulance service billing to city staff handling it, but that plan was nixed after the former administrative assistant left for another job.

Gardiner ambulance service provides rescue and emergency service to Gardiner, Chelsea, Farmingdale, Litchfield, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner, and brings in revenue by billing individuals for service.

The partner towns pay annual service fees calculated by use and population, usually around $8,000 to $12,000 for most municipalities besides Gardiner, which paid around $30,000 this year. But the communities, including Gardiner, also must pay for unpaid bills incurred when the ambulance service responded within their borders.

A major reason for the cost-savings plans is to eliminate these unpaid bills, called uncollectables, by distributing them to all communities and slightly raising the annual base fee. That’s what the public safety director position plan would have done, and Morelli said the new proposal also would accomplish the goal of getting rid of uncollectables.

The city also is expecting to face an overall budget shortfall next fiscal year of $600,000 or more.

This article has been clarified to reflect that Gardiner also pays annual fees and unpaid bills for its ambulance service.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663pkoenig@centralmaine.com Twitter: @paul_koenig
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