By Scott Sullivan
The Saugatuck Township Board April 2 agreed to rejoin the Fennville Area Ambulance Service and resume subsidizing it to cover township land south of the Kalamazoo River.
The move reverses the former board ending township membership in 2015.
The northern part of the township, plus Douglas and Saugatuck cities, have a contract with American Medical Response of West Michigan for non-government-subsidized service from an ambulance already stationed at Holland Hospital.
The southern part of the township — in conjunction with Ganges, Clyde and Lee townships, part of Manlius Township and Fennville city — for years was served by an AMR ambulance based in Fennville. The firm charges members a subsidy to maintain it.
Saugatuck Township representatives in 2015 objected to other Fennville district ambulance board members recommending AMR’s contract be renewed for five years without first seeking bids from competitive providers. The district board subsequently rewrote its request for proposals (RFP), although not entirely to the local township’s satisfaction.
“I believe we should remove ourselves from the Fennville district contract and negotiate with AMR ourselves for the entire township,” said then township supervisor Bill Wester.
“We can stay in the district and sign a contract whereby we’d be charged a subsidy,” he continued. “Or we can add our southern portion to our northern contract as exists and not pay the subsidy.”
“There would be the same rates throughout the region,” said AMR representative Dick Whipple. “Service-wise it would stay the same.”
“Option two is a win-win for us,” Wester said. The entire board then agreed.
Saugatuck Township’s win-win was the rest of the Fennville ambulance board’s lose-lose. New township treasurer Jon Helmrich and clerk Abby Bigford joined Saugatuck Township Fire District Chief Greg Janik attending the Fennville board’s March 14 quarterly meeting, Helmrich reported March 28.
His letter, included in the April 2 township board packet, said losing Sauga-tuck’s subsidy (estimated as $7,000-plus annually) has led to an operating loss for the AMR Fennville base.
“Despite this change,” wrote Helmrich, “AMR in Fennville committed to serving any dispatches for Priority 1 calls (the most severe) only to the southern township area.
“There has been concern among some township board members and residents (among them retired AMR employee Tony Schippa) that by no longer belonging to the Fennville Area Ambulance Service, response times have increased, placing residents at a higher risk.
“Revisiting our membership was an issue that our new board members had agreed to study further.”
Helmrich reported he and Bigford learned March 14:
“• In the last quarter, AMR completed 16 Priority 1 calls into the township without compensation from us. As a comparison, other member municipalities had 30 Priority 1 calls in the quarter for their entire township area. So, in fact, Saugatuck Township has received the same coverage for such calls without paying the subsidy as the 16 calls were only in half of our township area.
“ • AMR also completed some Priority 3 calls (less severe) into the Township even though they had not committed to do so.
“• The members of the group expressed their disappointment to us that we had left suddenly just days after our representative at the time, Bill Wester, had participated in voting to choose AMR for a new contract in an RFP process that three ambulance companies to serve the group.
“• A new RFP has recently gone out as the current AMR contract is up in June. Only two companies submitted proposals this time. AMR’s is 35 percent of the annual charge proposed by the other applicant, Life Ambulance.
“• If we choose to, the township can rejoin the group, which would be welcomed by the other members despite some bitterness over how our exit was handled. When we left in 2015, we paid an annual fee of $7,485.00; $623.77 per month to guarantee full coverage of the southern township for all Priorities. It is estimated that the annual fee to rejoin might be a little closer to $7,000 with an annual increase of 4 percent over a 5-year term.
“• The Fennville group next meets in June when they will vote to renew the contract with AMR; if we are interested in rejoining, they would like us to send a written request to them expressing our desire to rejoin the group for their board to consider.
“• Chief Janik spoke to express his desire to see us rejoin to improve public safety and increase collaboration with our neighbors. There is also some concern that others in the group may exit if we do not rejoin them.
“The AMR post in Fennville would not exist without the group members’ subsidy due to the rural landscape and low call volume. Losing this post in Fennville would certainly increase response times for all municipalities involved.”
The township board voted last week to send a letter requesting Saugatuck rejoin the group.
“We would need a representative at some point,” said Bigford. “Tony Schippa has expressed an interest. Let’s hold onto that,” she said.