MONMOUTH — If ambulance service is going to continue to be based in Monmouth, the town is going to have to pay at least double what is called for in the current contract.

Aaron Chase, president of the Monmouth Rescue Association, told selectmen during Wednesday’s workshop that continuing to operate the service would cost $100,300, which is more than double the $50,000 budgeted for the 2013-14 fiscal year. The service, currently run by the nonprofit rescue association, would become a municipal service like the police department if it is continued, Chase said.

The additional $50,000 would add about $12 in property taxes for every $100,000 in home value, said Town Manager Curtis Lunt.

Chase announced earlier this month that the rescue association, which has provided ambulance service for 34 years, was canceling its contract with Monmouth and Wales, the only communities for which it provides primary coverage, on Jan. 13. Chase said a reduction in the number of calls, coupled with pay reductions implemented to keep the service afloat, have made it difficult to attract paramedics and emergency medical technicians. The staffing shortages have made it increasingly difficult to answer calls for service in a timely manner.

The association, which handles about 500 calls each year, has typically relied on certified responders who live in the area to answer those calls.

Selectmen are scrambling to quickly lay out a new plan to provide ambulance coverage. The options include contracting with an outside agency, like municipally run rescue services in Winthrop or Gardiner, or ramping up funding to maintain a town-based rescue. Chase has said operating the service as a separate nonprofit organization is no longer a viable option and that the town must take it over if the service is continued.

The rescue will take in an estimated $218,000 during the 2013-14 fiscal year. Monmouth’s contract with the service calls for a payment of $50,181 in 2013. Wales will pay $10,000, which is double what it paid during the 2011-12 fiscal year. The rescue will earn an estimated $117,000 answering service calls and another $41,000 from Wales.

The estimated expenses of running a full-time service, including competitive salaries, insurance and supplies, totals $270,000.

That total budget includes staffing the ambulance station with two staff members from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, which is typically when most calls come in. At least one of those staff members would be a paramedic, Chase said. The budget also calls for paying stipends for employees to be on call from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. every day.

“With our call volume, and the percentage of calls we have at night, I think that’s reasonable,” Chase said. “We’d still need our current staff. We’d have to add staff.”

If the rescue continues to decline in call volume, thus losing income from carrying patients, the town’s cost would go up, Chase said.

“Everything is based on current costs,” he said.

Chase has not had formal discussions with Wales officials, some of whom attended Wednesday’s meeting.

“They’ve expressed a strong desire to stay with us,” Chase said.

Selectmen asked for a detailed budget, specifically how much the service is able to collect from patients who lack insurance or whose insurance pays only a portion of a bill. Chase said the service has a 90 percent rate of successful collection.

The town also is exploring the idea of contracting with an outside agency to provide emergency medical services. Lunt said he expects Winthrop and Gardiner ambulance services to submit bids by Tuesday’s deadline. Gardiner Fire and Rescue Chief Mike Minkowsky and Winthrop Ambulance Service Chief John Dovinsky attended Wednesday’s meeting.

Dovinsky, who lives in Monmouth, said his department, which has a mutual aid agreement with Monmouth, typically answers about 20 calls in Monmouth. This year that number jumped to about 50. That includes instances when Winthrop provided a paramedic to answer a call with a Monmouth emergency medical technician driving a Monmouth ambulance.

Dovinsky said his department typically has 40 employees, half of whom are paramedics. The service, which covers Winthrop, Wayne, Readfield, Mount Vernon, Fayette and Manchester, handles about 850 calls every year. About 40 percent of those calls occur outside of Winthrop.

Dovinsky said the service staffs two ambulances every day and can call a third into service when needed. Dovinsky said he plans to add staff to keep all three trucks staffed every day if Winthrop is awarded the Monmouth contract. He said the service’s headquarters, just off U.S. Route 202, would allow it to reach most Monmouth locales within a few minutes. He recalled a period in 1999 when Winthrop routinely responded with Monmouth. He said Winthrop averaged a three minute faster response time because the Monmouth drivers had to leave from their homes and transfer into an ambulance before responding to the call.

“We’ve proven this,” Dovinsky said.

Dovinsky said ambulance services around the country have seen a reduction in call volume since the economic downturn. At the same time, they are facing pressure from increased regulations and patients who have no insurance or Medicare, which pays a fixed rate that is often less than the cost of the service.

“This is one of the most difficult times on EMS services in the past two decades,” Dovinsky said.

He said the variables make it difficult to provide cost certainty when budgeting for a service, but Dovinsky believes the town will end up spending more than $100,000 called for in Chase’s budget.

“If you want to keep these guys going I think they need $120,000 a year,” Dovinsky said. “It’s a service. How much do you want to pay to keep that service available?”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642[email protected]

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