In his second presentation to a joint meeting of the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen and Wiscasset Budget Committee on Tuesday, April 12, new Wiscasset Ambulance Service Director Toby Martin submitted a revised 2016-2017 budget proposal that phases out reliance on volunteer members.
The salaries for 24/7 station coverage account for $351,832 of the proposed $478,250 budget for 2016-2017. The budget is a 67 percent increase from the previous year’s budget, which was $286,288, according to the 2015 town meeting warrant.
Since the Wiscasset Ambulance Service was formed in 1976 it has operated as a volunteer department, with members receiving a small stipend to be on-call and paid an hourly wage for response to calls.
“In prior years, you’ve done well with members filling the schedule,” Martin said. “That’s not where we’re at today.”
In his first presentation to selectmen and the budget committee on March 22, Martin submitted an initial budget of $415,840, which relied on volunteers in the community to cover overnight hours.
Concerned station coverage would be an issue and selectmen would be forced to hold a special town meeting mid-year to raise additional funds for the ambulance service, selectmen requested a revised budget which would carry the ambulance service through the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
Martin’s proposed paid staffing matrix guarantees coverage for one ambulance, Martin said in his initial presentation to selectmen and the budget committee.
It allocates $93,600 for 24-hour weekday coverage by an emergency medical technician and $74,800 for a paid paramedic to work 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. Monday through Friday. The matrix allocates $49,920 for 24-hour weekend coverage by a paramedic and $42,432 for 24-hour weekend coverage by another provider.
The paid positions would be for part-time employees. During the ambulance service’s peak season, the budget accounts for an additional paid part-time provider.
Martin plans to work 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday; his salary is $61,000.
“The volunteers are still here,” Martin said. They will be needed to cover call-outs from paid staff, situations where additional manpower is needed, and to cover second calls, when the service’s second ambulance is needed, he said. The budget allocates $12,000 for additional manpower to cover those situations.
“This is all going to be coming from taxes,” budget committee member Vince Thibeault said, pointing to the ambulance service’s current call volume and revenue stream, which he said is lower than in previous years. “This is hard for me to swallow.”
According to Martin, the proposed budget and paid staffing matrix is still cheaper than hiring an outside company because it allows the town to retain the revenue generated from the ambulance service. Narrowing the gap between revenues and expenditures is a major focus of his role at the ambulance service, Martin said.
To increase revenue, Martin said he has switched the ambulance service’s billing provider to a company with a good track record of collecting outstanding debts and is working to improve documentation to increase the billable services for the department.
According to Martin, the ambulance service will also need to increase the amount of its contracts with neighboring communities.
Since the ambulance service was formed in 1976, it has serviced the surrounding communities of Edgecomb, Alna, and Westport Island; in recent years those communities have been charged $3,000 for the service. In March, Alna voted to switch its ambulance service provider to the Central Lincoln County Ambulance Service, ending its nearly 40-year relationship with Wiscasset.
In 2015, the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen placed ambulance services out to bid to determine if it would be cheaper to outsource the service. North East Mobile Health Services, of Scarborough, was the only company to submit a bid with hard numbers.
North East Mobile Health Services submitted four different staffing proposals in its bid, which ranged from $178,000 to $403,000, and covered staffing for a primary ambulance and a backup crew for a second ambulance.
In its budget request of $286,288 for 2015-2016, the Wiscasset Ambulance Service requested a small adjustment in weekday on-call pay to recruit and retain membership. Previously, ambulance members received a stipend of $3 an hour to serve on-call during the week and $5 an hour to serve on-call during weekends.
Wages for responding to calls varied from $10 for drivers to $13 for paramedics, according to former Wiscasset Ambulance Service Director Roland Abbott’s annual report for 2014.
The increase Abbott requested in 2015-2016 was from $3 to $5 for weekday on-call pay.
In September 2015, Abbott suddenly resigned from the ambulance service after serving as director for 10 years. Due to staffing shortages, interim Director Joe McCole hired paramedics from outside the community at $17 an hour to fill gaps in the schedule.
Martin was not scheduled to begin work as Wiscasset Ambulance Service’s director until April 4, but began work in late March to ensure ambulances got out the door, he said.