City Council, Mayor clash over ambulance purchase

On Oct. 15, the Waterville City Council unanimously voted to purchase two used ambulances. One of the ambulances, a 2011 Chevy diesel model with 74,160 miles, will cost $55,000; the second, a 2012 Chevy with 95,500 miles, will cost $47,500. The Council also approved the purchase of two Stryker Power-Cots, which will cost a total of $18,000. When one considers discounts, the City’s total cost adds up to $111,000.

 The City currently has a contract with nonprofit ambulance service Delta Ambulance. Though the Waterville Fire Department’s ambulances respond to accidents and emergencies, only Delta ambulances may transport patients to hospitals (the City of Waterville lacks the necessary certifications and licenses). With the purchase of these ambulances, the Council hopes to develop a city-owned ambulance transport service.

Despite the Council’s effort, Mayor Nick Isgro vetoed the measure, and in his mayoral memo, Isgro presented a series of objections. He believes that such a significant decision requires more time. Before its Oct. 15 vote, the Council created a committee that studied the Fire Department’s needs. Isgro claims the committee met behind closed doors and recommended the ambulance purchase less than one month after its inception. 

“The committee met in isolation from both the community and its relevant partners such as Delta Ambulance, hospital staff and citizens in neighborhoods like Seton Village, all of whom are stakeholders in some fashion and who may bring necessary perspective” Isgro wrote in the memo.

Isgro also took issue with the committee’s findings; he believes the committee produced no verifiable data to support the purchase. 

“For the residents of Waterville, we must be able to say with more certainty than we have now that the rewards — both in financial solvency as well as patient care — of providing ambulance services will outweigh the risks,” Isgro wrote.

 Perhaps the most significant reason behind Isgro’s veto is the City’s competitive bid process. When the City considers a purchase greater than $10,000, the Council must institute the competitive bid process. Because bidders attempt to undercut one another, the City’s costs lower. The Council failed to implement the competitive bid process when it sought estimates for the ambulances. In his memo, Isgro quoted City Solicitor William A. Lee III. 

Lee said, “in the present situation, there was no publication in the newspaper and only two vendors were contacted. A quick internet search reveals many vendors of used ambulances between Maine and Massachusetts.” 

Before Isgro willingly consents to the purchase, he wishes to see the competitive bid process enforced. That being said, Isgro is outright against a city-owned ambulance service. He does believe, though, that more time and thought are necessary.

In accordance with Waterville law, the Council placed a veto override vote on its  Nov. 6 meeting agenda. To override the veto, five of the six city councilors must vote in favor of the override. 

In an email to the Echo, City Councilor Jay Coelho shared his perspective on the prospective ambulance purchase and the override vote. 

When asked how he plans to vote, Coelho said, “I never fully make up my mind on what I’m voting for until the moment the vote happens.” He continued, “New information that changes my position is always welcome. I like facts and logic when making decisions.” 

During the vote, the welfare of Waterville’s residents will be on his mind. Coelho noted that “council members are also residents and taxpayers.” The wellbeing of Waterville’s residents will motivate any decision Coelho reaches. Coelho agrees with Isgro that the competitive bid process is extremely important. In certain circumstances when items are unique or non-competitive, the Council is not required to apply the competitive bid process. 

Coelho wrote, “I was under the impression that because we wanted used ambulances that they were unique enough not to competitively bid.” Coelho added, “at this point my decision to buy remains the same up to the amount of [$131,000].” Coelho believes that the City has enough information to establish a back-up service and concludes that “this decision wasn’t easy but it was all about leverage, I could have told you weeks ago how this was going to play out…I feel Delta’s leadership is genuine in figuring out a partnership that is mutually beneficial. Any agreement that we make as I’ve said to Delta and others must put the residents of Waterville first.”