Saturday, March 8, 2014
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.
“I think on a consistent basis Winthrop could offer better response times,” he said.
The board devoted much of its discussion to Monmouth Rescue Association’s proposal, which called for the town to double its contribution to $100,000. Chase said the association’s board had agreed to turn all of its assets over to the town, including a modest amount of money in the bank, should the town decide to create a town-run service.
But, Sanborn suggested, those assets, which include two ambulances that are 12 and 17 years old, also are liabilities. Chase suggested a used ambulance would cost about $60,000. Town Manager Curtis Lunt said the town could lease an ambulance for about $30,000 per year. Sanborn also expressed concern about the hidden costs, such as purchasing equipment to outfit the ambulances.
“We’re putting more of a burden on taxpayers,” Sanborn said. “I want to make an educated decision. My biggest concern is the vehicles. We’re dealing with some really old vehicles right now.”
Chase’s proposal, which factored in only per diem employees, did not include benefits for full-time employees. McDonald said the service would need at least one full-time employee to run the service. He said state guidelines require benefits to be provided to anyone who works more than 30 hours per week, pushing the town’s estimated cost of running the service from $100,000 to at least $120,000.
If the town were to take over the rescue service, McDonald said it would require Wales to increase its spending at least three-fold. The neighboring community spends $10,000, which is double what it spent last year, but based on a contract that matches Monmouth’s per-capita spending of $19.50, Wales would be required to spend $30,000.
“That would not be acceptable,” said Wales Selectman Eric Gagnon, who attended the meeting. He said his town would pay no more than $16,000.
Chase said Wales can have free service through Lewiston-based United Ambulance Service, but has stuck with Monmouth Rescue for its superior response. He said the $10,000 contract, coupled with $40,000 in average yearly revenue from calls in Wales, represent a significant portion of the association’s funding.
“I don’t know if you realize the importance Wales plays in this,” Chase said.
The anticipated decision to scuttle Monmouth Rescue Association will have an impact other neighboring communities as well. The rescue provides mutual aid coverage to Leeds for Turner Rescue and also has aid agreements with Winthrop and United.
Before the vote, Ludewig urged the board to take its time and give residents a chance to offer their input. He recognized the board’s authority to decide to contract with Winthrop or Gardiner, but said doing so without greater deliberation would be wrong.
“It would be unfortunate after 34 years to dump Monmouth Rescue,” Ludewig said. “We need to let the voters decide.”Craig Crosby — email@example.com