For the first time since Paramedic Services of Illinois (PSI) was hired to provide paramedic services for North Riverside in 1985, the village will seek competitive bids for the service.

While this won’t necessarily mean the village will have a new paramedic service provider in the future, the process could result in lower paramedic fees to the village, which paid roughly $517,000 to PSI in fiscal year 2018-19.

“I believe this is something the residents are interested in doing,” said Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. “There are not any problems with PSI and I think their prices have been reasonable, but this will put everything in the open as far as seeing if their prices are in line.”

Since 2014, North Riverside has seen its rate for paramedic services jump by about 14 percent.

By contrast, the village of Riverside, which also uses PSI as its paramedic contractor, has budgeted paying the company $455,120 in 2019. Despite the fact that Riverside has a larger population and a more difficult street system to navigate, that rate has risen by just 1 percent since 2014.

Until about a year and a half ago, Riverside used a company called Public Safety Services Inc. (PSSI) for paramedic services. PSI acquired PSSI in April 2018 and assumed its contract with Riverside.

In April 2018, Riverside extended its contract with PSI through 2023, with the company imposing 2-percent increases in each of the last three years of the five-year deal.

In the final year of the contract, Riverside will be paying $482,875 for the same number of PSI paramedics as North Riverside.

While Hermanek indicated officials moved to seek bids because of resident interest in doing so, he likely also felt political pressure to seek bids at this time. A pair of independent trustees elected in April, Marybelle Mandel and H. Bob Demopoulos, made seeking competitive bids on large vendor contracts like paramedic services a main campaign theme.

“Good government and prudent financial management dictate that all service contracts be competitively bid out,” said Mandel in an email.

Mandel and Demopoulos were the No. 1 and 2 vote-getters, respectively, in the April election, and they both believe their performance in the election had a direct impact on the village’s decision to seek bids for paramedic services.

“The independent candidates for trustee were vehement about bidding this contract that had a history of being awarded without any competition,” said Demopoulos in an email. “There is no question that certain political measures were taken to appease the residents due to the independents dominating in this last election.”

Hermanek said the decision to seek bids was also informed by what he termed “misinformation” circulated during the campaign that bringing paramedic services in house would be cheaper than getting those services through an outside contractor.

“I was convinced the only way to put it to bed was to competitively bid it,” Hermanek said. “Transparency-wise, it’s not a bad idea.”

Hermanek also pointed out that even if another company’s bid comes in lower than PSI’s that may not be enough to make a change.

“This isn’t a case where you just sign a contract with the lowest rate,” Hermanek said. “This is a public safety issue. Cheaper isn’t necessarily better.”

The current contract with PSI ends July 31, but the company has agreed to continue providing services during the bid process. Sealed bids are due back to the village by 10 a.m. on Aug. 16 and will be opened immediately afterward.

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