WATERVILLE — The Waterville City Council voted 6-1 on Tuesday night to override Mayor Nick Isgro’s veto of a council decision to buy two used ambulances, a move that paves the way for the Fire Department to start transporting patients to hospitals as a backup to Delta Ambulance when Delta is delayed.

The council over the past several weeks has voted twice to postpone a decision on whether to override the veto, asking for more time to explore the issue.

Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

Because the council voted to override, the city now can buy two used ambulances.

City Manager Michael Roy and Fire Chief Shawn Esler said they would put the ambulance purchase out to bid, a process that was not done when the council voted 6-0 on Oct. 15 to buy two used ambulances for $131,000. Isgro vetoed that action three days later.

City Solicitor William A. Lee III urged the council Tuesday night to put the ambulance purchases out to bid, saying it is extremely important to maintain the integrity of the bidding process. Any purchase of more than $10,000 requires the city to follow a bid process unless the item being purchased is unique — and used ambulances are not unique, according to Lee.

Esler said Tuesday he thinks the city needs a backup transport service in Waterville for when Delta is delayed. The ambulances also could be used to transfer patients to facilities and be on hand at mass gatherings, he said. He said there would be no impact to other communities, and having a backup service might free up paramedics and could increase Delta’s availability in small communities. It also would increase firefighter safety and morale and may generate revenue, he said.


“This gives our hardworking employees a sense of pride and ownership and, most importantly, takes care of our residents when they need it most,” Esler said. “You can rest assured that I stand committed in working with Delta and ensuring this backup plan is successful.”

Councilors Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, and Jay Coelho, D-Ward 5, members of the Fire Department Study Committee, recommended the city buy the ambulances. The city is not licensed to take patients to hospitals, but Delta Ambulance is authorized to do so and has a paramedic on every ambulance.

Tim Beals, executive director of Delta Ambulance, last week proposed an alternative to the Fire Department — to provide the city with a state-licensed ambulance to be used by the department to transport patients if Delta is delayed.

Delta proposed to maintain that ambulance. Esler and Coelho said they opposed the plan, with Esler saying the backup service would be under the control of Delta with no ability to respond to other communities.

“This plan falls completely under the control of a private company — completely,” he said.

Councilor Erik Thomas asked Roy for his opinion on the issue, and Roy said he had said from the beginning it was important to have a study done as to what the problem is and how best to address it. He said he was left out of the discussions between Esler and councilors on the ambulance purchase and the first he heard of it was in September.


“I still think that more of the investigative work should be done,” Roy said. “I see the Delta plan as giving us time to do that.”

Nate Rudy, a member of Delta’s board of directors, urged the council not to rush a decision and, instead, have a thorough and thoughtful discussion to include input from hospitals.

“We implore you — take your time,” Rudy said. “We will be your partner, as we always have been.”

But Thomas said the council is trying to do what is best for the city and enhance service. Rudy said he was concerned that the discussion is not about backup service and that if Waterville buys two ambulances, it will move toward having a full transport service. The council’s decision would have consequences for communities including Vassalboro, China and Belgrade, he said.

Isgro said he agreed “that this process was not done well and it has set up an adversarial conversation.” When he vetoed the council’s vote, he did so to allow more time for deliberation and public discussion and that has happened, he said.

Steve Diaz, chief medical officer at MaineGeneral Health and Delta’s medical director, asked that city officials discuss the matter further. Delta is one of two EMS organizations in the state that provide critical care of service — the other being LifeFlight, Diaz said. EMS is an expensive venture that requires buying new ambulances and equipment over time and the more spread out the cost, the more it costs each individual, he said. A Waterville resident, Diaz said he does not want his taxes to go up in five years, but they might have to if the city has transport service.


Thomas said, however, he did not see a lot of risk in having a backup service, and he did not think a study would be beneficial.

“I’ve never seen a study that is worth the money that we spent on it,” he said.

Council Chairman Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, said he supported the ambulance purchase but does not support the Fire Department’s going beyond a backup service. The City Council and Fire Department Study Committee also feel the Fire Department should function only as a backup to Delta.

“We want Delta to be the primary transport service in not only Waterville but other areas,” Mayhew said.

Mayhew said if the backup service costs taxpayers money, it will end.

“It will not be tax subsidized,” he said.


Isgro said he also is not in favor of having a full transport service. He cited a case in Presque Isle where the town took over transporting patients and it killed the regional ambulance service.

Councilor Claude Francke, the lone opponent to overriding Isgro’s veto, said every time the ambulance issued is discussed, something new surfaces. He said he thinks if the city buys the ambulances, it would be jumping right into working toward a full transport service. He also disagreed with Coelho that such a service would be a good opportunity to generate revenue.

“It’s not,” Francke said. “This is a money loser. The city is going to end up raising taxes.”

Ward 5 resident Julian Payne argued Roy should have been included in the ambulance discussions because Roy is effectively the chief executive officer of the city. He said a lot of confusion could have been avoided if that had occurred.

“I think if it had gone through the city manager and not through the council and department heads, we’d not be in this two-month mess,” Payne said.

Resident Judy Cabana said she had had a lot of dealings with Delta, never had a problem with it, and Delta always delivered high-quality service. She asked that the council take more time to study the issue.


“I think it’s a better thing to wait,” Cabana said, “and I agree with the veto. I think we need to look into this.”

Cathy Weeks agreed, saying she thought Roy should have been included from the beginning of discussions. She said she was not being disrespectful but councilors are not experts in health care and delivery, and to have “three people rush this through — that was not done correctly.”

“There is no reason to hurry through this,” Weeks said. “Councilor Francke, I totally agree with you.”

She added she has dealt with Delta for 12 years and it provides the same level of care that one would receive at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. She urged the council to expand the discussion before voting.

“I am imploring that you wait and talk with health care professionals that know all about this,” she said.

Winslow Fire Chief Ronnie Rodriguez, however, said he supports Waterville’s proposal to have a backup service.


“I think the chief’s plan is spot-on,” he said.

Also Tuesday, the council voted to appoint lawyers Jim Laliberty and Tom Nale, as well as Planning Board member Samantha Burdick, to the charter commission. They also voted to form a homelessness task force and to make an amendment to the city’s property maintenance ordinance.

Voters on Nov. 5 approved a ballot question asking if a charter commission should be established for the purpose of revising the city charter or establishing a new city charter. The vote was 1,150 to 623. Voters in each ward also elected charter commission members to represent their wards.

The City Council is responsible for appointing three additional commission members.

Burdick, Nale and Laliberty are among 17 people who sent letters to City Clerk Patti Dubois expressing interest in serving on the commission. The council voted by written ballot Tuesday and the trio garnered the most votes.

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