Fate to Be Decided on Calif. Ambulance Dispute

Jan. 29--MERCED -- The Merced County Board of Supervisors will meet today to consider a full agenda of items, but all eyes are fixed on how members will handle the dispute for the county's emergency ambulance service contract.

Riggs Ambulance Service and American Medical Response have been in a battle for it since October, when county staff withdrew its decision to offer the contract to Riggs, the longtime local provider.

Instead, the staff recommended AMR, saying it will provide better overall service and patient care. Riggs officials maintain the bidding process was flawed and have issued multiple appeals.

Today, the supervisors will decide to uphold or deny Riggs' most recent protest, which was denied by county staff last week.

Riggs officials will have one last chance to explain their protest to the supervisors during a 15-minute presentation. AMR also will have 15 minutes to make its case, then the public will be given the opportunity to comment -- with each speaker limited to three minutes.

If the board denies Riggs' protest, the supervisors will be left with two choices: approve the contract with AMR as recommended by staff, or cancel the bidding process and issue a new request for bids -- but not because of the reasons outlined in the protest.

If the board upholds the Riggs protest, then the bidding process would start over. That would allow Riggs another opportunity to seek the contract.

Before making any decisions, the supervisors can discuss their options as long as it's a public discussion, said Chairwoman and District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey.

The item will be one of the last to be heard by the board, with regular agenda items and the consent calendar to be considered first. Kelsey estimates the Riggs item may not be up for discussion until close to noon, although that is only an estimate.

Other agenda items up for consideration include moving forward with the Atwater-Merced expressway project by approving more acquisitions of property, contracting with the California Department of Transportation for construction and putting out a proposal for construction management services.

The board will consider authorizing a secured gate on Wallace Road to limit access to the Castle Commerce Center property from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m Monday through Friday and all day on weekends.

The supervisors also will look at a contract to lease office space at 3090 M Street for the Mental Health Alcohol and Drug Services office.

Today's meeting will be at 10 a.m. in the board chamber on the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building, 2222 M St. in Merced.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.