The city of Gardiner announced Tuesday it has hired a consultant to review revenue in the city’s ambulance service budget that appears to be less than expected.
The consultant, from Municipal Resources Incorporated in New Hampshire, is expected to present his findings and any recommendations to improve the city’s collections and revenues from providing regional ambulance service at the next City Council meeting, scheduled for April 2.
The city staff discovered the revenue discrepancies last month while developing a restructuring proposal for the public safety departments. City Manager Scott Morelli withdrew a previous proposal to merge the city’s fire and police chief roles and create a joint deputy fire chief and code enforcement officer position after some councilors opposed the plan because of the reduced code officer role.
Morelli said Tuesday by email he hopes to be able to present a recommendation for changes to the public safety departments at the April 16 council meeting, but that there might be not enough time to develop the proposal, depending on what the consultant finds. His goal is to incorporate any changes from the consultant, he said.
Morelli plans to give a presentation on the upcoming budget, which is expected to include a $600,000 shortfall for the fiscal year starting in July. However, that doesn’t include any new requests from departments, Morelli said.
Morelli announced in a news release Tuesday that the consulting company will use Justin Van Etten to review and critique the procedures used to track, report, bill and collect for emergency medical service. He also will review the process used to forecast service demand and potential revenue for budgetary purposes. The city will pay up to $5,500 for the review.
The city staff thinks there is a possible revenue discrepancy because projected revenue was based on amounts billed to patients and their insurance companies, and not what insurers will end up paying, according to the release. Staff have no reason to suspect any type of fraud, the release said.
Van Etten is the chairman and owner of Stewart’s Ambulance Service — the largest private provider of emergency medical services based in New Hampshire, according to the release.
A major goal of the proposal to merge the public safety roles and consolidate the code officer position was cutting costs for the six other partner towns served by the ambulance service.
Gardiner Ambulance Service brings in revenue by billing individuals and their insurance companies for service and through fees charged to all communities — Gardiner, Chelsea, Farmingdale, Litchfield, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner.
The city and all the towns pay annual fees, but unpaid bills also are distributed to all partner communities, including Gardiner. Those unpaid bills, called uncollectables, have been a point of criticism from partner towns.
At least one town, Pittston, is considering leaving the service for a cheaper, private ambulance company. The city would have eliminated those unpaid bills and charged a slightly higher annual fee if the changes proposed by Morelli previously had been implemented.
The new recommendations are expected to include similar cost savings that can be passed on to all communities in the partnership.
The town of Pittston approved enough to money — $20,000, at its Town Meeting earlier this month — to pay for ambulance service from Gardiner, but town officials still are considering leaving the service, said the chairwoman of the town’s Board of Selectmen, Jane Hubert.
“That’s the major hang-up, the uncollectables,” she said Tuesday.