A toy ambulance hangs in October 2019 from the rearview mirror of a Delta Ambulance at the company’s facility in Waterville. City officials are looking to expand Waterville’s ambulance services, essentially replacing the services Delta has provided for years. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

WATERVILLE — The City Council is scheduled Tuesday to take the first of two votes on a proposed $53.1 million municipal and school budget for 2022-23 that represents a $6.6 million increase to the current $46.5 million budget.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at The Elm at 21 College Ave. It can be viewed remotely via links on the city’s website — www.waterville-me.gov.

The proposed budget includes $24.7 million for municipal spending and $28.4 million for schools. The council can take only one vote on the budget Tuesday.

Increases in the municipal budget are represented in pay hikes for all city departments to bring them up to standard for similar municipal salaries in the region, according to City Manager Steve Daly.

Increases in the school budget are represented by pay raises for teachers and educational technicians, and for medical insurance increases.

The Fire Department proposes to spend $1.72 million to hire eight firefighters who would also be emergency medical technicians or paramedics, and two administrative employees, including a deputy chief for emergency medical services and a training officer for firefighting and EMS.


Fire Chief Shawn Esler said he projects revenues from the city having its own ambulance service would be $1.25 million, so the net cost to the city would be $461,000.

If the proposed budget were to pass, the city’s property tax, or mill rate would increase from $25.50 to $26 per $1,000 in assessed valuation, so the owner of a house valued at $100,000 would pay $2,600 in taxes, an increase of $50.

The city is able to offset some of the total budget increase because it received about $1 million more in revenue sharing from the state and about $1 million in increased aid for schools, according to Daly.

Daly is also recommending $2 million be taken out of the city’s reserve fund to help pay for increases.

The $1.72 million plan for the Fire Department was aired publicly for the first time at a City Council meeting Thursday night — four days before the council is to take its first vote on the municipal and school budget.

Councilor Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, objected to voting on such a major change in the Fire Department without holding a public hearing so residents can weigh in. Francke said the plan was introduced to the council in an executive session June 14, with Esler and the medical director for the Fire Department in attendance.


Francke reiterated Monday a public hearing should be held on the plan, not a private executive session where residents had no opportunity to comment or give input.

Francke also objects to the Fire Department’s making such a major move, which he said would allow it to transport patients to hospitals as far away as Portland, taking two firefighters out of the station for prolonged periods. He said the department budget in 2020 was $2.2 million and the proposed budget for 2022-23 is $4.2 million, with the ambulance service.

“To me, the bottom line is, we had free ambulance service for 50 years, with one of the most reliable companies providing ambulance service, certainly in the state,” Francke said, “and we want to replace that with one subsidized by the taxpayers of Waterville.”

Tim Beals, executive director of Delta Ambulance, said Monday that Delta will still serve as a mutual aid, or backup service, in an agreement with Waterville that is now being developed. He said it is essentially the same as the one Delta had with the city prior to the contract the city and Delta began two years ago, where Delta supported the Fire Department with two ambulances and paramedics.

In 2019, Mayor Jay Coelho, who was then a city councilor, and Councilor Michael Morris, D-Ward 1, advocated with Esler for buying used ambulances so the Fire Department could become licensed to transport patients to hospitals. Both Delta and Waterville firefighters responded to emergencies, such as automobile crashes, but only Delta, which employed paramedics, could transport patients.

Esler said at the time Delta was sometimes late to arrive to accidents or other calls, and he wanted to ensure the Fire Department could help transport patients in cases where Delta could not be there more quickly. He said he did not plan for the department to become a full transport service.


The Fire Department ultimately became licensed to transport and bought two used ambulances in 2019, and the city in 2020 formed a partnership with Delta for transport service. Esler recently asked, however, that a study be done on EMS services in the city, while acknowledging the outcome could lead to the city terminating its relationship with Delta and going on its own for ambulance services. The department asked Delta officials to fund half of the study, but Delta declined, having recently had its own study done by the same company.

Delta officials decided in May to pull out of its agreement July 1, with Beals saying the city hired away four of its employees, which made it more difficult to collaborate with a partner that did that.

Beals said Monday that Delta will be able to take back seven Delta employees and the two ambulances it had dedicated to the city’s Fire Department. Delta has been hiring employees and has a program in place that pays to train those who are becoming paramedics.

“We continue to bring staff on board,” Beals said. “We’ve been hiring steadily. We’re confident that we’re going to continue to serve the towns we’re responsible for, and provide backup for Waterville and Winslow.”

Beals said he recommends Waterville have a study done on EMS services before hiring 10 more people.

“Before you spend that money,” he said, “it may behoove them to do that study and see what it tells them.”

Beals disputed claims that employees left Delta because of a disintegrating work environment, saying the state retirement system in Maine offers good benefits for those who go to work for municipalities and that serves as an incentive. He said working during the COVID-19 pandemic was tough, but Delta employees weathered the storm.

“Our staff has certainly stood the test of time during the pandemic, and they’ve done a fantastic job and continue to provide a high level of emergency care to the region through the pandemic,” he said. “We’re going to continue to do that beyond the pandemic.”

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