By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD — In a 6-4 vote, members of the Marshfield Common Council elected to explore outside options for managing the city’s ambulance billing.
The decision came following consideration to authorize a Request for Proposals (RFP) for ambulance services by the Finance, Budget, and Personnel Committee, which ended in a 2-2 vote with one member absent.
With no committee recommendation, the decision was brought to the full council March 14 on whether to consider outsourcing ambulance billing following the retirement of a half-time staff member and a full-time individual who were previously administering the billing.
“We are at a point right now where I think we’ve got an opportunity to look at all options, including rehiring and including outsourcing,” said City Administrator Steve Barg. “I think that due diligence suggests that makes sense. Now, ultimately, the council may look at this and say, ‘You know what? We’re persuaded for a variety of reasons — cost and otherwise — to go with rehiring,’ but I think the public expects in our due diligence that we look at the options.
“We know for a fact that there are many communities across Wisconsin, a growing number — now, it doesn’t mean that they are all right — but a growing number who are having outside companies do their ambulance billing and collections.
“Is that right for Marshfield? I don’t know, but why would we not at this decision point be able to tell the public, ‘Yes, before we went out and hired more staff, which means more benefits, which means more of all of these other things, we looked at it, and we compared it to what the private sector can do, and we said we want another employee?’”
Council members discussed the matter in length with several individuals expressing concerns regarding removing the duties from local administration.
Alderman Tom Witzel said, “We have incredible transportation provided by fire and rescue. … I personally feel that billing is a part of that service that should continue to stay in-house.
“I’m concerned about the level of service as this gets potentially outsourced.”
Mayor Chris Meyer reminded the council that RFP process was a way for the city to determine what might be best and should be expected as part of the process.
“We have a long history in this community, in this council, of doing RFPs,” said Meyer. “Every single position that opens up should absolutely be evaluated with all potential options put on the table. Failure to do that is a failure for us to do our jobs.”
After a lengthy conversation on the request, Alderman Gordy Earll “called the question” to end discussion and put the matter to vote.
Interim Fire Chief Scott Owen stated that because ambulance billing is so specialized, the bills would sit dormant at the station until its operational method is determined.