AUGUSTA — City councilors said they have no interest in waiving the fees Augusta charges to the city of Hallowell for ambulance services.

Hallowell City Manager Michael Starn, at the direction of that city’s finance committee Finance Committee, recently told Augusta officials Hallowell would consider contracting with private ambulance provider Delta Ambulance if Augusta won’t waive the per capita fees it charges Hallowell to respond to rescue calls there.

Hallowell pays Augusta about $23,000 annually — $9 per cit resident — plus roughly another $3,000 to cover the cost of uncollectible fees or underpaid fees for ambulance services provided in Hallowell.

Starn said Delta Ambulance officials said they could provide ambulance service to Hallowell from its office in Augusta for no fee to the city. The firm would recoup its costs via patient fees to users of the ambulance service.

The Hallowell Finance Committee, Starn said, included $26,000 in savings by eliminating funding for ambulance fees in the proposed budget, which goes to the full City Council June 24.

Thursday, Augusta councilors, at the recommendation of Fire Chief Roger Audette, said they have no interest in waiving the fee.

“Every municipality is focused on where they can save funds, we understand that,” said Augusta Mayor William Stokes. “That’s up to the Hallowell City Council, and I’m sure they’ll give it their full consideration. And by the same token our responsibility is to make sure the services and infrastructure Augusta taxpayers are funding are adequately compensated for. It seems to me the per capita fee is really quite reasonable and allows communities who don’t have the wherewithal or resources to have their own ambulance service to use ours and get the high quality services we’ve invested in. It seems to be a very modest cost.”

Audette said in 2012 Augusta responded to 322 ambulance calls in Hallowell, accounting for about 7 percent of Augusta’s calls.

“That equates to about $69 per call, to have a $200,000 ambulance respond down there, with two paramedics, in under five minutes,” Audette said. “And out of those 322 calls, in 16 of those we sent extra people. This past weekend, somebody at Granite Hill went into cardiac arrest. We had three trucks and four paramedics there, for $69. From a business model, I don’t think it makes sense for us to offer anything less than $9 per capita. I think it’s a little bit of a hit on the taxpayers of Augusta if we’re paying for that and somebody calls and the ambulance is in another community, for free. I’m not so sure I could sleep if that was the case.”

In addition to the $26,000 in per capita fees and uncollectibles Augusta receives from Hallowell, it also takes in about $75,000 a year in revenues from user fees for calls in Hallowell.

The Augusta Fire Department, which includes the ambulance service, has an annual budget of about $4 million, according to City Manager William Bridgeo, and brings in about $1 million in revenue from billing for services. Nearly all the rest of the cost is borne by Augusta taxpayers.

“Looking at what our citizens pay, it’s a lot more than $9 per capita to run our own emergency services for our citizens,” said Augusta Councilor Jeffrey Bilodeau. “I think (Hallowell) is getting a pretty good deal for the money, and they’re getting highly trained professionals. I’m not jumping on board and giving free ambulance services.”

Audette said Augusta has had a contract to provide ambulance services to Hallowell since the early 1970s, and the contract has always included some form of per capita fee. He said nearly all municipal ambulance services, and most private services, charge a per capita fee. He said Augusta’s fee is “probably one of the cheapest.”

He noted Augusta also responds to Hallowell with extrication equipment to remove people from car accidents, responds with crews trained to do rope rescues — which he said have been needed at the quarries and Vaughn Woods in Hallowell, and for water rescues.

Augusta also dispatches police, fire and rescue for Hallowell.

Starn said when he was working on Hallowell’s budget he read an article in the Kennebec Journal about Richmond receiving offers from North East Mobile Health Services and Gardiner Ambulance for ambulance services in which no fees would be charged to the town. He said he then met with Delta Ambulance officials, who offered to provide ambulance service with no fees to Hallowell.

Starn anticipates officials from both Augusta and Delta Ambulance will make presentations about their ambulance services to the Hallowell City Council when they consider the budget June 24.

Officials from both cities said they have a good relationship with the other and said Hallowell is satisfied with the ambulance service provided by Augusta.

“We are in no way dissatisfied with the ambulance service Augusta provides,” Starn said. “It’s not about being dissatisfied. It’s about cost. We have to make some hard budget choices.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]

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