An evolving disagreement between Colorado Springs and other local government agencies over how to ensure ambulance services for the region was aired Wednesday at a meeting of the Emergency Services Board.
The board oversees response time requirements and contract compliance with the region’s ambulance provider, American Medical Response.
It’s been trying to finalize a two-year extension of a contract with AMR since June, but has been stymied by Colorado Springs City Council, which must also agree to the extension.
In October, the board learned that Colorado Springs has been negotiating on its own with AMR.
The board was “blindsided,” said Fountain Mayor Jeri Howells, also a board member. ‘“It’s frightening for us and our citizens.”
Still uncertain what the city plans to do, the board Wednesday scheduled a meeting in January to consider a one-year contract extension.
That also will give ESA board member Merv Bennett, a Colorado Springs city councilman, time to meet with the council and Mayor Steve Bach informally to see if the city will approve a similar deal.
“I can at least get back to you and tell you if I have their support,” he said.
Bennett said if the council reaches consensus to approve a one-year extension, he will seek a vote at the Jan 8. council meeting. The ESA board set its meeting for Jan. 7, and is expects to formally OK the one-year deal.
Services are provided by AMR under a five-year contract that ends Dec. 31, 2013. The two-year renewal was approved by the ESA board and El Paso County commissioners in June, but the city didn’t act.
ESA board members aren’t happy with the city’s negotiations, which are being kept under wraps. The board also is concerned those negotiations could result in higher rates and inferior service for the rest of the county.
“The concern I have is the lack of transparency that is going on,” said board member John Scorsine. “I find that disturbing. Why wouldn’t I find that disturbing?”
One solution, said board member Jeffery Force, would be to have the city negotiations opened to an ESA representative.
Colorado Springs Fire Chief Richard Brown told the board he planned to ask the city to approve a three-month extension “to determine what is best for Colorado Springs.” He said he would make that determination by the first half of next year.
“We’re in the process of rethinking everything in the city,” he said.
Such a three-month extension would limit the time the ESA would have to issue requests for proposals for service if it decided to take that route, said Jim Reid, ESA chairman. The ESA has 27 members.
Board member Peggy Littleton, an El Paso County commissioner, asked Brown: “Why are we trying to fix something that doesn’t seem to be broken?”
Brown told the board the city’s negotiations with AMR could translate into better service and lower rates. He said he hasn’t shared information with the board because “there was nothing to share.”
“Had there been something to share, I would have brought it forward,” he said.
In a written statement, board member and El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark said she is “increasingly uncomfortable about the impression that individual entities are negotiating in private with the contractor outside of our normal and public hearing process.”
Clark was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting.
“If the city desires to negotiate a franchise fee to help pay for health clinics at fire stations, (this is what I’ve heard), then that cost would be passed on to ambulance rates and city residents,” she wrote in comments to the ESA board. “How would that affect rates to city residents and what would that increased cost be to ambulance transport rates? To other parts of the county?”