MERCED -- Heated debates, public outcry and passionate pleas have all led to one day. On Tuesday, the Merced County Board of Supervisors is expected to decide on the county's emergency ambulance service contract.
The boards decision potentially ends a three-month battle between 65-year provider Riggs Ambulance Service and contract winner American Medical Response -- a fight that has divided residents.
AMR won the bidding for the county's contract by four points in October after Riggs lost local preference points, which account for 5 percent of its total score.
The county removed those points after AMR appealed to the state regulatory agency, which said the local preference gave Riggs an unfair advantage. As a result, AMR ended up with a total of 364.8, compared with Riggs score of 360.6. The county staff then reversed course and began contract negotiations with AMR.
That decision set off a firestorm of criticism from all sides, with questions about service quality, local jobs and the bidding process at the center of the debate.
However, on Tuesday, the supervisors are scheduled to hear Riggs appeal and make a decision on the contract. But after months of sometimes heated and emotional debate, many of the supervisors said on Friday theyre still undecided.
"Well, I think weve gotten a whole lot of information and Im waiting to see the staff report," said Hub Walsh, District 2 supervisor. "This is an important decision to make, so I'll be reviewing the staff report first. I dont have a decision at this point in time."
John Pedrozo, District 1 supervisor, is also undecided but said he'll spend the days leading up to the meeting reviewing materials from both Riggs and AMR.
"This weekend, Im going to study all the information that I have once again," Pedrozo said. "I think they're both quality companies, and well see where it takes us on Tuesday."
District 5 Supervisor Jerry O'Banion said hes leaning in one direction, but will still keep an open mind at Tuesdays meeting.
"Yes, I have some feelings in regard to it, but Im not going to make that decision until I hear all the information come Tuesday," O'Banion said. "I'm going to go to the meeting with an open mind, and I'm going to keep my options open until we start discussing the issues at the meeting."
Linn Davis, District 3 supervisor, said he's undecided at this point, but feels a few key questions that are deciding factors haven't been answered.
"All the information has not been presented to me, and I have no idea which way I will go," Davis said. "I don't know if I've received all the documentation regarding how many jobs will be lost. That seems to be an issue that's been brought up, and that's always a consideration of mine."
Riggs Ambulance Service General Manager Don Vonarx said 32 Riggs employees will lose their jobs if AMR takes over, and they're all county residents.
Vonarx said Riggs estimated 45 lost jobs at the beginning of the process, because they were unclear if AMR would hire dispatchers.
AMR officials have since announced plans to hire all qualified EMTs, paramedics and dispatchers.
The 32 Riggs employees at risk of losing their jobs work in administration, billing, community service, mechanic, human relations and management positions, Vonarx said.
Although Riggs' second protest was denied this week by county staff, the supervisors will hear a 15-minute appeal from Riggs officials during Tuesday's meeting, before deciding to deny or uphold the protest.