The Waterville City Council has given preliminary approval to spending about $1.7 million so the Fire Department can offer a full ambulance service. Above, fire Chief Shawn Esler is photographed in 2020 with one of the department’s ambulances. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

WATERVILLE — The City Council took a first vote Tuesday to approve a proposed $53.1 million municipal and school budget for 2022-23 that represents a $6.6 million increase and includes money to allow the Fire Department to offer a full ambulance service.

The vote was 6-1, with Councilor Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, the dissenter.

Francke said Delta Ambulance has provided high-quality service to the city for 50 years, and careful consideration should be given to the ramifications of such a dramatic change to emergency medical services.

Francke sought to amend the proposed $4.2 million Fire Department budget to $3.48 million, which is what fire Chief Shawn Esler requested for his department in March. Francke’s amendment failed lack of a second.

Meanwhile, council Chairperson Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, proposed an amendment asking the city to spend $143,673 in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to hire an administrative assistant and code compliance inspector for one year for the code enforcement office, which Green said has been stretched beyond capacity. Her amendment was approved.

The proposed $53.1 million budget includes $24.7 million for municipal spending and $28.4 million for schools. The council could take only one vote on the budget Tuesday, and is expected to take a second, final vote in two weeks.


The current budget is $46.5 million.

Increases in the municipal budget include pay hikes for all city departments to bring them to standard for similar municipal salaries in the region, according to City Manager Steve Daly. Increases in the school budget are driven by pay raises for teachers and educational technicians, and for medical insurance increases.

The city proposes to spend $1.72 million as part of a plan 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.

Daly said projected revenues from the city having its own ambulance service would be $1.25 million, so the net cost to the city would be almost $500,000.

If the council approves the budget in its second vote, the 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. He has recommended as part of the proposal that $2 million be taken out of the city’s reserve fund to help pay for increases.


The Fire Department expansion plan was aired publicly for the first time at a council meeting Thursday night — four days before the council took its initial vote on the municipal and school budget. Francke objected at that meeting to voting on such a major change in the Fire Department without holding a public hearing first so residents could 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.

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 agreement Delta had with Waterville 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 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.

Esler and Daly said Tuesday the Fire Department expansion would maintain the current levels of fire and emergency medical services in the city and of mutual aid the city has with other communities.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.