December 12, 2013

Monmouth chooses Winthrop for ambulance service

The board’s vote, split 3-2, elicited a vocal response from residents and prompted dissenting voter Selectman Douglas Ludewig to storm out of the meeting.

By Craig Crosby
Staff Writer

MONMOUTH — In a split vote that prompted one of its members to storm out of the meeting, selectmen on Wednesday decided to sever the town’s 34-year relationship with Monmouth Rescue Association and enter into a contract with a neighboring community for ambulance service.

Selectmen considered three options, which included increasing funding to maintain a town-based ambulance service or contracting with Gardiner Fire and Rescue. Citing costs associated with maintaining a town department and extended response times from Gardiner, the board ultimately agreed to sign a $30,000 contract with Winthrop Ambulance Service. The contract with Monmouth Rescue Association expires Jan. 13. Winthrop Ambulance Chief John Dovinsky said the permitting process to add Monmouth should be completed in time for a seamless transition.

The board’s vote, split 3-2, with Chairwoman Pauline McDougald and Selectman Douglas Ludewig voting against the Winthrop contract, elicited a vocal response from residents and prompted Ludewig to storm out of the meeting.

“Great job,” he said sarcastically before rising from his chair at the table and collecting his belongings. Ludewig, who helped found the rescue association in 1979, loudly opened the door as he headed outside.

The move came as a surprise to the more than dozen Monmouth Rescue employees and residents who attended the meeting. Resident Hugh LeMaster, who is a member of the town’s Fire Department and formerly served with Monmouth Rescue Association, pleaded with the board to take more time and invite greater public input before making a decision.

“I think there’s a lot more discussion to have with a lot more people,” LeMaster said.

But Dovinsky said taking more time would make it impossible to complete the state permitting process to assume primary coverage of Monmouth before the Jan. 13 deadline. While selectmen could legally enter into a contract with Gardiner or Winthrop without going to the voters because the proposals were less than the $50,000 authorized at the June town meeting, the board would have had to follow a lengthy process that included a public hearings and a special town meeting to spend more to continue with Monmouth rescue. Voters also would have had to approve an ordinance creating a new town rescue department.

“There’s no guarantee the voters will go for it,” said Selectman Timothy McDonald said.

Monmouth Rescue President Aaron Chase said board members had agreed to extend the deadline to at least Feb. 13, but only if selectmen agreed to begin the process of preserving the town rescue. McDonald said costs of creating a town-run department, coupled with Wales’ refusal to assume a much greater portion of that financial burden, made that outcome unlikely. McDonald said the Association’s proposal for Monmouth to double it’s $50,000 contribution was unrealistically conservative.

“I don’t think that’s all it would be,” McDonald said. “I think it would be more.”

Jones suggested Monmouth Rescue Association set a Jan. 13 deadline as a power play designed to force the town to increase its funding. He said it was unnecessary to spend more for an ambulance service with Winthrop and Gardiner offering viable alternatives.

“I’m confident either one...can deliver a quality service,” Jones said. “It’s not like this is the end of the world.”

Gardiner Fire Rescue Chief Mike Minkowsky submitted two proposals. The first, which came with a $17,000 price tag, would have provided an ambulance response from the city’s station on Church Street. The second option, which selectmen never discussed Wednesday, would have provided ambulance response from Winthrop plus a paramedic stationed in Monmouth 12 hours per day, five days per week, to provide care until the ambulance arrived from Gardiner. That option would have cost Monmouth $74,000. The in-town responder was designed to address concerns about response times from distant Gardiner, but Jones said the issue remained a stumbling block.

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