The Wiscasset Ambulance Service’s new director was not scheduled to begin work until April 4, but Toby Martin began almost two weeks early to ensure ambulances get out the door, he said.
On one of his first days on the job, Martin released the ambulance service’s 2016-2017 budget to a joint meeting of the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen and the Wiscasset Budget Committee Tuesday, March 22.
The budget, of either $415,840 or $538,816, is a 40-80 percent increase from the previous year’s budget of $295,187, depending on which staffing model selectmen and the budget committee present to voters at the annual June town meeting.
The budget “is going to be very shocking,” Martin said at the outset of his presentation, but it is needed to turn the Wiscasset Ambulance Service into a fully operational 24/7 department.
To offset the dramatic rise in the Wiscasset Ambulance Service’s budget, Martin said he plans to switch the ambulance service’s billing provider to a company with a better track record of collecting outstanding debts. He also hopes to institute a new subscription program, which would cover the debts of individuals with no insurance or with insurance policies with a high premium.
March 22 was also Martin’s last day as rescue chief for Turner. The ambulance service was in a similar position when Martin began his contract with them, and went through similar budget increases, he said.
Turner’s ambulance service budget increased to about $512,000, Martin said, but the revenue also increased to $660,000, creating a sustainable ambulance service.
Martin said one of his major focuses will be narrowing the gap between Wiscasset Ambulance Service’s expenditures and revenue. “That’s my job, to ensure the ambulances are staffed and to bring in revenue,” Martin said.
Nearly half of the $415,840 budget Martin proposed was for salaries to ensure station coverage. The staffing matrix Martin proposed for $215,856 relies on community volunteers to fill on-call shifts in order to work, he said.
Of the Wiscasset Ambulance Service’s 17-member roster, only six or seven are active, creating large gaps in the schedule, especially for weekend and overnight coverage. The ambulance service is “in intensive care,” budget committee member John Merry said, with staffing levels “in critical condition.”
The staffing matrix involves paid station coverage Monday through Friday with two emergency medical technicians; a third provider would be added during the tourist season. Paramedics would be paid a blend of hourly wages and an on-call stipend to provide 24-hour weekend coverage, in addition to an EMT.
In the matrix, overnight hours during the week would be covered by on-call community members, who would also be relied on to serve on-call on an as-needed basis.
The $415,840 budget also includes the salary for the full-time director, which is $61,000 in 2016-2017, a 65 percent increase from the director’s salary in 2015-2016, which was $36,816.
Martin plans to spend a large portion of his time as director working on the ambulance, he said. Three of his five days will be on the ambulance, two days will be devoted to administrative duties, he said. By doing this, he will save the town $10,000 a year in part-time salaries, he said.
For the month of April, he will be working every weekend to ensure station coverage, he said, averaging 90-120 hours a week. It is something he is willing to do in the short term, he said, but it is not a sustainable schedule.
“We need to beef up staffing,” he said. Through solid leadership, training courses for new EMTs, outreach to licensed EMTs already in the community, and a new policy requiring members to work four shifts a month, Martin said he hopes to draw in enough members to fill in the gaps in the schedule and make the proposed staffing matrix work.
Selectmen expressed concern that not enough community members would be willing to serve overnight on-call hours, and an even larger increase would be required during the budget year, requiring a special election.
Selectmen anticipate a special election will be required before the annual June town meeting to cover overages to Wiscasset Ambulance Service’s budget of $295,187 for 2015-2016, which is already 82 percent expended.
Prepared for the question of how much money would be required if community members do not step forward to serve on-call during weeknights, Martin provided selectmen with his ideal staffing matrix, which involves paid hourly rates for weeknight station coverage and 24-hour staffing with a paramedic.
The ideal staffing situation would increase salaries to $338,832, driving up the Wiscasset Ambulance Service’s budget to $538,816. Insurance costs would also increase in the second staffing matrix, but the amount has not been calculated.