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Springs council to be asked to end partnership for shared ambulance service

June 24, 2013 Updated: June 24, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Colorado Springs City Council will be asked today to end its partnership with El Paso County for shared ambulance service even though it does not have a new ambulance contract in hand.

Interim Fire Chief Tommy Smith will ask the council to terminate the relationship with the Emergency Services Authority, because he says it is full of bureaucratic hurdles and doesn't represent the best interests of the city, which is losing about $3 million a year.

"We would like to be able to manage the contract for Colorado Springs," Smith said.

City council member Jill Gaebler said she's not comfortable terminating the partnership without a new contract, which could still be months away from final approval.

"We are being asked to terminate an (intergovernmental agreement) before we know what is happening with the future of the contract," she said.

City Council approved the ambulance service partnership in 1995, which was updated in 2010 and 2011. The partnership formed the Emergency Services Authority, which negotiated the ambulance service contract with American Medical Response, a Greenwood Village-based company.

But Colorado Springs wasn't happy with the terms of the contract, and the city wants to negotiate its own terms, said Mayor Steve Bach. About 85 percent of all the emergency calls are within the city limits, and Colorado Springs Fire Department arrives first on the scene 75 percent of the time.

"We get there first, we stabilize, diagnose and load a patient," Bach said.

The city should be reimbursed for doing AMR's work, he said, estimating all of that work to be about $3 million a year, Bach said.

Other cities have worked out reimbursement deals with AMR, Bach said.

But the details of how a new contract would be structured have only been discussed behind closed doors; On Monday council spent two and half hours on the subject.

El Paso County Commissioner and ESA board member Sallie Clark said the whole issue has been shrouded in secrecy and she still does not know why Colorado Springs wanted out of the county-wide agreement. Now the county must negotiate its own contract, which could result in an increase in price.

"All along, the ESA board has said we want to do this in cooperation, if you had issues, why not bring specifics to the board and we could figure out how to do an RFP (request for proposal) and incorporate it into the new RFP," she said.

Clark sent emails Monday to all city council members, six who are new members, asking them to delay or reconsider terminating the partnership.

"To me, it's taking a step backward," she said.

If the city wants to end its partnership by the end of the year, it must give six months notice - by June 30.

The ESA board is tired of playing games and is moving on with its own contract, said Jim Reid, chair of the ESA board and El Paso County director of public works. The board is preparing its own request for proposal and expects to open bids by the end of summer. It's possible that the city and county end up with the same ambulance company, just with different contract terms, he said. Or the city and county could end up different providers - a situation that caused cross-over and ambulance territory wars before the city-county partnership.

"The city said the bureaucracy of the ESA was inflexible," Reid said. "They were part of the makeup of ESA. If there was bureaucracy, they were part of it."

Council member Jan Martin said respecting regional partners is important to her. She hopes that future partnerships are not dissolved in the same manner as the ambulance service.

"The way we handle things often can make a statement," she told Smith. "We've all admitted it could have been handled better."

The city's request for proposal for ambulance service closed at the end of May and the city is reviewing the bids. Bach said the city's requirement will be reimbursement when the city's firefighters perform duties the ambulance crew should provide.

"That is the recommendation from us and we hope the city council will respect it," Bach said. "If they don't, then I hope they can tell us how to get that $3 million."

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