Gardiner’s city staff probably will have nothing new to present Wednesday to the City Council about a possible revenue shortfall in its ambulance service budget.
City Manager Scott Morelli said Monday that he also probably won’t be presenting an alternative plan at the meeting to reduce costs in its ambulance program to prevent partner communities from leaving for cheaper, private firms.
The City Council is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall.
Before the last council meeting, on Feb. 22, Morelli dropped a previous cost-saving proposal to merge the police and fire chief roles and create a combined code officer and deputy fire chief position after facing opposition from councilors, largely regarding the diminished code enforcement officer position.
Morelli said he would propose an alternative plan to lower the ambulance program cost, but he wouldn’t disclose the details other than to tell councilors at their last meeting that the fire chief position will be involved.
The concerns that revenue in the ambulance budget appears to be lower than expected delayed any discussion of a new plan last week.
Morelli 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.
The city brought in a new public safety administrative assistant last fall, and the previous person in the position had done the revenue projections, he said.
Gardiner Ambulance Service provides rescue and emergency service to Gardiner, Chelsea, Farmingdale, Litchfield, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner. It 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 other municipalities. Gardiner itself paid around $30,000 this year. But the communities, including Gardiner, also must cover unpaid bills incurred when the ambulance service responded within their borders.
A major reason for making changes to the ambulance service 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 original plan would have done, and Morelli said the new proposal also would accomplish the goal of getting rid of uncollectables.
Adding to the pressure is a looming budget shortfall next fiscal year that is expected to total $600,000 or more.
Councilors are scheduled to decide Wednesday night whether to approve making the city the fiscal sponsor of a downtown business incentive program it is supporting in collaboration with Gardiner Main Street, the Gardiner Board of Trade and The Bank of Maine.
The program, Gardiner Growth Initiative, will offer incentives such as forgivable loans for infrastructure costs, free rent for long-term leases and micro-grants for working capital.
Gardiner Main Street is asking the city to administer the forgivable loans portion because the city already has experience in running its revolving loan program, said the downtown revitalization organization’s executive director, Patrick Wright.
The $125,000 that will be available for the loans worth up to $50,000 for individual businesses will be provided by The Bank of Maine, Wright said.
Morelli had said previously that the city won’t incur any direct costs from administering the program. Indirect costs, from staff working on the program, will be minimal and won’t affect any services provided by the city, he said.
Councilors already approved a tax incentive policy in December to give tax rebates for major infrastructure improvements to downtown buildings as part of the program.
The council is also scheduled to:
• Review the police union contract in executive session and decide whether to ratify it in the public meeting.
• Begin its annual review of the city manager in executive session.