With a tie-breaking vote from Mayor Rich O'Connor, the Hudson Common Council approved 4-3 to enter into contract negotiations with Lakeview EMS to provide emergency services to the city at its meeting Monday, April 8. A motion to pursue a parallel path with St. Croix EMS failed.
The decision came nearly four months after the city received four proposals to provide services, including from its own city-run St. Croix EMS.
The approval does not mean the city has officially contracted with Lakeview EMS. A contract for services with Lakeview will come back to the council for approval after negotiations are complete.
Council Member Bill Alms made the motion to start negotiations, saying Lakeview was the right fit based on the expectations he has developed.
Council Member Randy Morrissette II seconded the motion. He said the city has outgrown the ability to provide the service to its growing community.
"If I saw a way to financially sustain our own EMS service I would most definitely support keeping it," he said.
Council Member Joyce Hall said she would prefer to make a commitment to St. Croix EMS, and make the first step of hiring an interim chief. She said the most important piece of service is getting a paramedic to the scene as quickly as possible, and the St. Croix EMS chase vehicle model is the best way to do that. She also expressed concern about Lakeview's dynamic deployment and Allina dispatch model.
Council Member Sarah Atkins Hoggatt said the city spends less than 3% of its budget on EMS, with more funds going to departments such as library, parks, fire, public works and police.
Alms asked what department the city would cut from for EMS, or if it would require increasing the entire amount of money with a referendum.
Atkins Hoggatt said the city is growing. That growth, O'Connor said, is not expected to increase levy limits more than 2%.
If cuts had to be made, Atkins Hoggatt said they could be rationed out across all departments.
Atkins Hoggatt said she was surprised to learn the company the city is currently working with to recruit a new city administrator has specialists that could have helped St. Croix EMS put together its proposal. The city left St. Croix EMS Operations Supervisor Josh Olson "flapping in the wind" to find his own resource, she said.
City Administrator Devin Willi said he did not know this firm offered that, and he hasn't had contact with it in 30 years.
Atkins Hoggatt said the city could have assisted in finding better resources.
Atkins Hoggatt said she would like to see the city pursue a parallel path working to develop a strategic plan for the St. Croix EMS department. Doing so would give the city more strength during negotiations, she said, and ensure that when the negotiations are complete the city has two viable options to consider.
"To say today that we're going to cut off and we're going to go with contract negotiations with Lakeview and telling our community and our department thanks for your service but so long, we will blow up that department and we blow up every single tool we had in our box when we go to that table," Atkins Hoggatt said.
Webber agreed, saying EMS staff has stayed with the city under a time of confusion. He said he'd like to follow up on the idea of a referendum.
Willi said the city cannot go to referendum for a levy override until it's at its levy limits. The city still has a levy limit cushion that would need to be spent in the budget before a referendum could occur. That means the earliest one could occur would be fall 2020.
Hall requested a revision to the motion to contract with Lakeview, to include a parallel park, but Alms said he was not going to revise.
Council Member Paul Deziel said he has weighed his decision based on 19 criteria, including response times, cost to taxpayers and users, sustainability, number of ambulances, training and more. The services were equal on four of these criteria, St. Croix EMS was better in 4 more and Lakeview EMS was better in 12.
Beyond those criteria, Deziel said there were outside factors to consider that affect sustainability such as the loss of partner municipality support and state-imposed levy limits.
Considering all of that, he said the best option is to contract with Lakeview.
"I take no joy in this decision because St. Croix EMS has done a great job for 42 years," he said, "And again, they've done nothing wrong."
Deziel said his vote does not mean he would approve a contract with Lakeview. The contract must include set terms such as pager or software to be compatible with St. Croix County dispatch, benchmark numbers to trigger adding additional ambulances and a clause that would return an ambulance to the city if Lakeview is not able to perform the service.
The motion to contract with Lakeview passed 4-3, with O'Connor, Alms, Morrissette and Deziel voting for, and Atkins Hoggatt, Hall and Webber against.
A vote to pursue a parallel path of establishing a strategic plan for St. Croix EMS by working with Public Administration Associates initially passed 3-2, with Deziel abstaining.
Deziel questioned if this was just the initial request for proposal process starting all over again.
Atkins Hoggatt said this was entirely different because now the city has a clear vision.
Deziel said his preference would be to go into negotiations with Lakeview on good faith, and if they fail, the city would then have this direction to follow.
That vote was determined to be void as the city is required to go out for multiple proposals if the cost exceeds $15,000. O'Connor said even if the cost was beyond that, the council has a fiduciary responsibility to consider all options.
Atkins Hoggatt made a new motion to finalize criteria for a strategic plan and sent out a request for proposals to write that plan possibly by using an interim director from with that organization.
That motion failed 2-4, with Atkins Hoggatt and Hall the lone supporters.