March 06, 2014EFFINGHAM — As of press time Tuesday, bids had been received from two companies hoping to become the ambulance provider for Effingham. Lifestar and CarePlus had submitted bids by the March 3 deadline that were set to be opened during the selectmen's meeting on March 4, after our press deadline.
This year has been an eye-opener for both Effingham and Ossipee as well as a lesson in what, according to at least one company, it costs to provide ambulance service.
In 2013, Ossipee selectmen terminated the town's contract with Lifestar that was supposed to run through the end of the year. Ossipee selectmen have declined to give any more detail about the contract termination other than to say it was by "mutual agreement" between Ossipee selectmen and Lifestar representatives.
Effingham also had a contract with Lifestar but once Ossipee terminated its contract, Lifestar was forced to start charging Effingham $5,000 per month, up from $2,000 per month.
Meanwhile Ossipee selectmen entered into an agreement with CarePlus. That company agreed to provide ambulance service to Ossipee on a month-by-month basis without a contract until Ossipee Town Meeting voters have a chance to vote on the contract price at the March 12 town meeting.
In September 2013, Lifestar representatives notified Effingham selectmen that they would no longer be able to provide ambulance service in Effingham though Effingham selectmen have not given any details publicly as to what led to that decision.
So Effingham selectmen put the contract out to bid. Lifestar came back with a bid of $96,000 for the first year of the contract and CarePlus, $463,099 with gradual increases topping out at $516,165 for the fifth year. Lifestar, however, had to withdraw their bid for reasons that have not been made public but have to do, according to sources, with Lifestar's inability to use Huggins Hospital as its designated resource hospital.
In a town where the total annual operating budget is about $1.2 million, there was no way the Effingham selectmen could take a number like that to the voters. Effingham selectmen and Ossipee selectmen entered into negotiations, with Ossipee selectmen agreeing that if Effingham would pay Ossipee $7,000 a month, the townspeople could "piggyback" off Ossipee's agreement with CarePlus. To date, Effingham has paid $35,000 to Ossipee.
Ossipee selectmen have negotiated a contract with CarePlus that is $562,822 for one years' worth of ambulance service. Voters there were used to paying about $200,000 per year under their contract with Lifestar. The contract price came as a shock to elected officials and sent them scrambling to figure out how to pay for it with as little impact to the town's property tax rate as possible.
On March 12 voters will go to Ossipee Town Meeting where they will vote on the 2014 budget. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at Ossipee town hall. Typically, these Wednesday night Town Meetings last for several hours and by the time the last warrant article is voted on, most voters have gone home. They better stick around this year, however, if they want to vote on the money to fund the ambulance contract. Interestingly, the ambulance contract was put as the last item to be voted on of the 20 warrant articles. Of the $562,822 price, selectmen plan to withdraw $100,000 from the town's surplus fund to offset the cost. As part of the CarePlus agreement, if Effingham enters into a contract with that company for $130,000 for the first year, Ossipee's cost will be reduced by $130,000.
With warrants written, budget hearings held, and town reports printed, it was safe for Ossipee and Effingham voters to assume they would go to their Town Meetings and vote on their respective $562,822 and $130,000 ambulance contracts.
Effingham selectmen weren't ready to settle, however, and decided to give one more try at negotiating a better deal for their townspeople. As of press time, it is unclear whether or not the sealed bids at Effingham town office contain a better deal. The issue will be reported on again in our March 13 edition, as Effingham voters will be going to their Town Meeting on Saturday, March 15.