May 23—The Baker City Council on Tuesday, May 24, will review a draft of the city's proposal to Baker County for continuing to provide ambulance service.
Councilors will meet at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 1655 First St.
Baker County, which is responsible under Oregon law for choosing ambulance providers, recently sent out a request for proposals (RFP) for the Baker Ambulance Service Area.
The Baker City Fire Department is the current ambulance provider for that area, which includes Baker City and about two-thirds of the rest of the county.
The deadline to submit proposals is June 3.
On March 22 the City Council, after reviewing a report from City Manager Jonathan Cannon about the city's financial struggles to operate ambulances, voted to notify the county that the city intended to curtail ambulance service on Sept. 30, 2022.
Ending that service would cost the city about $1 million annual in ambulance revenue, and would force the city to lay off six firefighter/paramedics, reducing the department's overall staffing from 16.25 full-time equivalents to 10.5.
The March 22 notice prompted county commissioners to release the RFP, with a goal of finding a replacement ambulance service if the city follows through on the Sept. 30 timeline.
On May 10, after hearing from 18 residents who criticized the March 22 notice and urged the City Council to continue the ambulance service, councilors decided to send a response to the county's RFP.
Councilors discussed that response during a work session on May 11, and Cannon has been working on the draft version of the response that councilors will review Tuesday night.
Since the county released its RFP, a firefighter/paramedic has submitted a two-week notice that he plans to leave his position.
That follows the resignation of another firefighter/paramedic, Brian Johnson, in early April. A third position has been vacant for several months.
Cannon cited the staffing challenges in his weekly newsletter, released on Friday, May 20.
"I expected as we move towards the September 30 end date of the ambulance service, our staffing numbers would diminish, as staff appropriately look toward their own future and seek other employment," Cannon wrote. "With fewer paramedics and EMTs, our ability to maintain ambulance coverage will become increasingly difficult."
Baker City Fire Chief Sean Lee notified Baker County that the city fire department might have to delay responses to fire and ambulance calls due to a staffing shortage.
In a Tuesday, May 17, email to county commissioners and Jason Yencopal, the county's emergency management director, Lee wrote that "We are at the point that we will have to start staging the calls for service that we receive. We will be able to take the first call for service, but doubles and/or triples may have to wait until the crew can clear the first call. When we receive fire call and medical call simultaneously, we will have to triage the calls as they come and determine the greatest threat to life and property. My hope is that this will give you an opportunity to find a provider for the interim that will be able to maintain the existing level of service as is referenced in OAR 333-260-0070 (d)."
In the weekly newsletter, Cannon wrote that based on increases in call volumes — mostly for ambulances rather than fire calls — the city would need to hire three additional firefighters beyond replacing the three current vacancies.
"The union in 2021 requested that we hire three additional firefighters/paramedics," Cannon wrote. "Budget constraints did not allow for this to occur."
Casey Johnson, president of the firefighters' union, said recently that although he believes the city would need to hire more firefighter/paramedics in the future, he believes the city could continue to operate ambulances for at least the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, if the city filled the current vacancies.
In a staff report to councilors for Tuesday's meeting, Cannon wrote that as part of his draft proposal to the county's RFP, he will recommend how much the city would need in financial contributions from the county during the five-year contract that the county listed in the RFP.
County commissioners have offered to give the city $150,000 for the next fiscal year, an increase of $50,000 from the county's contribution for the current fiscal year.
Cannon is suggesting that councilors, after reviewing his draft proposal Tuesday, schedule another work session to discuss details of the proposal, and then schedule a special meeting to approve a final version of the proposal to submit to the county by the June 3 deadline.
If the county chooses the city fire department to continue operating ambulances, and the city and county sign a contract, the city would need to start a supplementary budget process, Cannon wrote in his report to councilors.
The current proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which the city's budget board has approved but which the City Council has not adopted, is based on the expectation that the city will cease ambulance service and lay off six firefighter/paramedics.
If the city continues to operate ambulances, those layoffs would not happen and the city would need to replace those positions in the budget prior to its adoption.
The deadline to adopt the budget is June 30, the last day of the current fiscal year.
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