TOPSHAM — The Board of Selectmen backed a traffic safety grant to fund heightened enforcement this year, but took no action Jan. 18 on a request to provide primary emergency medical services to Bowdoinham town.
“The sentiment of the board was that we are having a difficult enough time covering our own shifts,” Town Manager Rich Roedner said in an interview Jan. 19. “We are just not in a position to add another community to our service area.”
The contract with Bowdoinham could have provided Topsham a new revenue stream, the manager said last month. Insurance reimbursement payments, which, depending on the number and types of calls, could total about $75,000. An additional base fee paid by Bowdoinham would have to be negotiated.
But that would not be enough to address Topsham’s existing staffing issues, which have resulted, Roedner said, in not having enough per-diem employees to cover shifts around the clock, and having the department’s acting chief cover nighttime and weekend shifts when not enough per-diem employees were available.
“Even if the goal is to have a contract that would pay for our additional labor, the bodies just aren’t out there to hire,” Roedner said. “… It’s a limited pool, and they’re being spread further and further. … We’re not in a position to find new per diems, not only to cover our own shifts, but to increase our coverage to provide coverage to Bowdoinham.”
Per-diem employees work part time, receive a flat hourly rate and no benefits, and can choose monthly which shifts to cover, Roedner said. Since they are not on call, they respond only during their shifts, unless they are also on Topsham’s on-call force, Roedner explained.
Topsham has about 27 employees in its fire-rescue department listed as per diems, “but that doesn’t mean they all work every week,” he noted. “Some of them might only be once a month.”
Bowdoinham had contracted with North East Mobile Health Services for EMS services. That company did not respond to Bowdoinham’s new contract request, “and appears to be backing off of coverage in the area, leaving Bowdoinham with no coverage,” Roedner noted last month in a memo to selectmen.
Bowdoinham last year had about 225 EMS calls, and Topsham’s mutual aid calls in Bowdoinham have only amounted to about two a month, according to Roedner. Topsham’s EMS load in 2017 was about 1,240 calls, including mutual aid.
The Board of Selectmen on Jan. 18 also unanimously authorized a traffic safety enforcement grant through the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety. The agency is funding overtime hours for police departments, allowing officers more time on the road to tackle specific traffic problems.
The funds will reimburse overtime pay. On-duty salaried personnel will provide a partial grant match by administering and overseeing the grant, as well as police cruiser gas use. The heightened enforcement will likely begin in mid-February, and run through September.
The agency already received about $4,000 toward speed enforcement and is due to get approximately $5,600 more to address seat belt infractions, $17,000 for distracted driving, and $3,600 for impaired operation. Court time that may occur after the grant period ends on Sept. 15 will not be reimbursed.
Although Topsham Police has been pre-selected to receive the funds based on information it provided on items like crash data, selectmen still had to authorize the grants, Chief Chris Lewis said in an interview earlier this month.