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Ambulance purchase delayed once again


By KAREN CALLANAN

Staff Reporter

The Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors recently voted to again delay the bidding process for a new ambulance.

Board Chairman Tom O'Driscoll and Treasurer Dan Ottoline voted last week to table a request for proposals for a new ambulance another eight months to see how the district's 1997 ambulance continues to run, besides saving about $165,000.

Board approval first was sought in late March when Assistant Chief EMS Phil Minnella announced the district would eek bids for a new ambulance in early April.

But Ottoline questioned whether that was the proper time to purchase a new ambulance given the district's "budget crunch.''

The board — O'Driscoll, Ottoline and then-member Jim Abkemeier — voted to delay seeking bids until July 1 when revenue from ambulance billing would be better calculated.

However, the board's action last week tables the item until next March, which which delays the district's replacement schedule by a year.

During the July 28 board meeting, Minnella told the board, "We're putting it back on the agenda. It's been budgeted and the funding's been approved. This $165,000 was planned for this purchase."

The district's ambulance billing policy was approved in May 2002, and the district began collecting fees in October. The district is averaging about $128,000 per month in collection fees, Minnella said.

Comptroller Jeff Geisler explained that the district projected collection fees to total just less than $1.9 million this year, but that was based on having a fifth ambulance in service at all times.

However, the board decided last August to shut down the fifth ambulance from operation whenever overtime is required to staff it.

The actual amount collected may total about $100,000 to $200,000 less than the projection, Geisler said.

When the billing policy first was approved, the district projected the billing would generate about $1.12 million during the first year at a 65 percent total collection rate and 25 percent collection rate for those without insurance, including paying 8 percent to a billing agency.

A new ambulance was scheduled to replace the district's No. 1 ambulance, also known as 1717, which is a 1997 vehicle with about 98,000 miles.

District mechanic Kenny Wenk estimated that the existing ambulance could reach 200,000 miles.

"If we have the money, replace it; if not, don't," Wenk recommended. "I think it would suffice another year."

Once purchased, Minnella said delivery of a new ambulance could take about three to five months.

O'Driscoll participated in the meeting via telephone from his home, where he is recovering from an April 27 traffic accident. The board's third seat has been vacant since April 29 when former fire chief and board member Joseph Gaterman lost his battle with cancer.

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