WATERVILLE — City councilors on Wednesday decided unanimously to postpone considering overriding Mayor Nick Isgro’s veto of a vote the council took Oct. 15 to buy two used ambulances with an eye toward developing a city ambulance transport service.

The 7-0 vote included votes from newly elected councilors Flavia Oliveira, D-Ward 2, and Claude Francke, who represents Ward 6 with no party affiliation, who were sworn into office Wednesday by City Clerk Patti Dubois.

Waterville City Clerk Patti Dubois administers the oath of office Wednesday to new city councilors Flavia Oliveira and Claude Francke. The two were elected Tuesday. Morning Sentinel photo by Amy Calder

Newly elected Councilor Richard Foss, R-Ward 5, will take office in January. Oliveira and Francke were able to take office sooner because they were chosen Tuesday as part of a special election. Francke won an open seat while Oliveira defeated incumbent Phil Bofia, who had previously been appointed to fill a vacant Ward 2 seat.

Councilors voted 6-0 Oct. 15 to buy two used ambulances for $131,000, a vote Isgro vetoed three days later, saying more time was needed for information to be gathered by both the council and the public.

In his Oct. 18 veto, Isgro said the council formed a committee to study fire department needs, the panel met behind closed doors and less than a month later it recommended the council approve the ambulance purchases — which it did, unanimously.

Millions of dollars would likely be spent over the life of an ambulance service, Isgro maintained in his veto message. He also said more time should have been spent researching the plan, including having an unbiased, third-party review of costs and revenue projections.

The fire department is not licensed as an ambulance service authorized to take patients to hospitals. While its rescue service responds to accidents and other incidents, only Delta Ambulance, with which the city contracts, may transport patients. Delta responds to all 911 calls and always has a paramedic on board.

Isgro issued a memo to the council, City Manager Michael Roy and Fire Chief Shawn Esler dated Oct. 29, recommending the council vote to table the request to override.

Esler and councilors Jay Coelho, D-Ward 5, and Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, are members of the study committee and pushed to develop a city ambulance transport service, which they say would serve as a backup to Delta, generate revenue for the city and help decrease delays in response time.

Morris on Wednesday made a motion to postpone the override issue to the next council meeting, Nov. 19, with Coelho seconding his motion.

City Solicitor William A. Lee III said that on Nov. 19, the council could vote to override the veto, amend the ambulance request or postpone the matter indefinitely.

In his Oct. 29 memo, Isgro said not enough time was dedicated to the process of purchasing the used ambulances, the city has no verifiable numbers to use in making a decision, and the ambulance purchases would violate the city’s competitive bid process. Moving to an ambulance service may be a wise step for the city, but that has not yet been proven, according to Isgro.

All proposed city purchases exceeding $10,000 require a competitive bid process except those rare cases where the items purchased are “unique or non-competitive,” a point Isgro made in his memo. He quoted an opinion issued by Lee on the matter which says that in this instance, there was no publication in the newspaper and only two vendors were contacted for the ambulance purchase. Lee also said a quick internet search revealed there are many vendors of used ambulances between Maine and Massachusetts.

“It is a competitive market with many possibilities,” Lee’s opinion reads. “In my opinion, the proposed purchase of used ambulances does not meet the criteria of ‘unique or non-competitive.’ To determine otherwise would have the narrow exception swallow the rule.”

Isgro also maintains that Roy, the city manager, should have been involved in discussions. Asked at the council’s Oct. 15 meeting for his take on the ambulance service proposal, Roy, a former 20-year member of Delta’s board of directors, said the most important thing the city could do was bring in an unbiased party to look at the numbers to see if an ambulance service can sustain itself.

 

CITY MANAGER WEIGHS IN

Roy is technically out on medical leave because he had knee surgery, but he was present for Wednesday’s council meeting. While he did not comment on the ambulance issue, a memo from Roy was included in the council agenda packet that says the question about buying ambulances is not just about purchasing two vehicles; it is also about having proper staffing and adequate emergency medical care for residents, and about how having an ambulance service would affect the city’s tax rate over time. Short and long-term questions should be asked, according to Roy.

“For the past year, I was deliberately left out of any discussions about these questions, so I am at a little bit of a loss to understand why the purchase of ambulances is so important at this point in time,” Roy’s memo reads. “For the short-term, I would ask, is there an emergency situation that exists that warrants this purchase immediately? For the long-term, I would ask, is it the long-term goal of the fire chief and the fire department to become a full transport service with all the necessary vehicles and staffing to accomplish that?”

Roy also says that the fire department study committee had adopted a purpose statement to guide its work, and the document says that in September and October the panel would determine scope and process for committee work and start preliminary work on review of data; from November to January it would contract an outside party to verify the cost and revenue estimates; and from January to April, it would determine funding requirements for a start-up if requested by the City Council for the 2020-21 budget year.

“If the purchase of two ambulances is just the first step in a long-term plan to have full transport EMS and transport services,” Roy said, “then a deliberate, thoughtful approach is not only recommended, but necessary.”

Delta Ambulance has served as the paramedic transport ambulance service for Waterville for more than 40 years, but also was not included in the fire study committee’s discussions prior to the council vote to buy two used ambulances.

The council voted to buy one ambulance from Autotronics, with addresses in Frenchville, Madawaska and Bangor. It is a 2011 Chevy diesel Osage Ambulance, with 74,160 miles on it, for $55,000.

The other ambulance is a 2012 Chevy diesel P.S. Custom Ambulance, with 95,500 miles, for $47,500. As part of the vote, the council approved buying two used Stryker Power-Cots for $18,000. With discounts, the total cost to the city would be $111,000.

Executive Director of Delta Ambulances Tim Beals, who was present for Wednesday’s council meeting, has worked at the nonprofit corporation for 35 years. Like Roy, Beals said last week that he thinks it is important the city have an independent review of the ambulance service proposal, as such a service is complex and a plan should be fully vetted.

 

OTHER COUNCIL MATTERS

In other matters Wednesday, councilors voted 7-0 to buy self-contained breathing apparatus for the fire department from Fire Tech and Safety, in Winthrop, for $230,000. The city was given a $229,333 federal award for the equipment and the city will use $11,466 from the Capital Improvement Reserve Fund for the move.

The council took final votes to

• Accept as a city street a part of Fieldstone Drive.

• Accept and spend a $10,000 gift for a firefighter training program for Colby College students.

• Amend the public safety ordinance.

• Accept an unclaimed property check for $1,600 from Walmart.

• Transfer $5,000 in tax increment financing funds from the Downtown TIF account to the general fund to support expenses for Kringleville and lighting for the holiday season.

The council voted to refer to the Planning Board for public hearing and recommendation a request to rezone 6 Main Place, the site of the former Boys & Girls Club, to allow a church to lease space in the building, which is owned by Uria Pelletier. Councilors also voted to refer to the Planning Board for public hearing and recommendation a request by Douglas Frame of Elite Properties LLC to rezone 83 Pleasant St. to allow him to add a second, two-unit residential building there.

The council voted to appoint James Laliberty to the Waterville Public Library Board of Trustees, with a term to expire in 2023, and approved a food license for James Kornsey, doing business as Korn-Z Deli at 174 College Ave.

Rien Finch, a member of the South End Neighborhood Association who also was elected to the Charter Commission Tuesday, announced that volunteers will be going door-to-door from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday to inform people named on a city list who have not claimed their Homestead Exemption that they may have funds coming to them.

Volunteers Saturday will meet at the South End Teen Center on Libby Court, with training to start at 1 p.m., and they will go in pairs to people’s homes, according to Finch.

“Our goal is to do the entire city,” he said. “We’re starting in the South End.”

Dubois, the city clerk, advised Finch to let the police department know the names of those going door-to-door.

Isgro commended Finch for his efforts.

“Very kind and generous of you — thank you,” Isgro said.

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