Inside Your Town

County council to battle executive in court over Gracedale ambulance contract

EASTON, Pa. - Northampton County Council is going to court to stop county executive John Stoffa from signing a contract with Lifestar Response Corp. to provide non-emergency ambulance service at the Gracedale nursing home.

Council voted 7-1 Thursday night to have its solicitor ask a judge to stop Stoffa from putting his name on an agreement that could earn Lifestar $644,520 over three years.

Solicitor Philip Lauer said council he will file for the injunction on or before June 9. He noted that Stoffa informed council of his intention to sign the contract on May 10, and council has a 30-day window to challenge the decision.

Lifestar submitted the lowest of three sealed bids the county received for the service. The company's three-year price was $174,300 less than the $818,820 bid submitted by Nazareth Ambulance, which has been providing the service for more than six years.

However, on March 21 and last Oct. 4, council made it clear to Stoffa that it wanted Nazareth to be given a new contract, even though on both those occasions Lifestar submitted substantially lower proposals.

Stoffa defied county council and advertised for sealed bids because he believes council would be setting a bad precedent by not giving a contract to the company offering to do it for the lowest price.

Council member Lamont McClure read the resolution asking solicitor Philip Lauer to challenge Stoffa in court, and have the judge determine whether Stoffa has the authority to skirt council's wishes in the matter.

McClure said council had the right to insist on Nazareth Ambulance because price was not the only determining factor. "It seems to me we've established price as a pretext," McClure said.

McClure added, "Sometimes co-equal branches of government disagree in good faith. That's why there's a third co-equal branch of government to decide these things."

Council member Ken Kraft said Stoffa's actions "circumvent and usurp" council's authority.

Council member Peg Ferraro said they show "a blatant disregard of the people who sit up here on county council. What's the point of us sitting up here?"

The only vote against the resolution came from council member Bob Werner, who has said all along that Lifestar should get the contract.

After the meeting Stoffa provided the numbers in the sealed bids from Lifestar and Nazareth Ambulance. Lifestar would charge $210,600 the first year, $214,800 the second, and $219,120 the third. Nazareth would do the job for $272,940 in each of the three years.

The county's contract with Nazareth Ambulance expired last Oct. 31, but the squad first agreed to a six-month extension, which ended at the end of April, and a second extension, which runs out at the end of June.

In other business, council took action to ease the workload in the sheriff's department by allowing the hiring of six new deputies.

Sheriff Randy Miller said the department needed the extra staff because while the number of deputies has declined by 10 percent over the last five years, the workload has increased by 400 percent.

The deputies will earn between $43,206 and $58,798 a year, and be used to transport prisoners, serve civil litigation documents and research applications for a license to carry firearms.

Miller noted that the number of license to carry applications this year already outnumber the total number of applications in 2010 or 2011.

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