NAUGATUCK — The borough has taken the position that it owns the building at 246 Rubber Ave., where it had been leasing space for two decades from Naugatuck Ambulance, its private nonprofit emergency medical service.
The borough had owned the property before transferring the title to Naugatuck Ambulance, but a clause in the deed says the title reverts back to the borough when the ambulance service’s mortgage is paid off. That was scheduled to happen Sept. 1.
“Based upon the reverter clause in the previous deed, it’s our position that the building is currently owned by the borough, but we remain in negotiations with Naugatuck Ambulance on a wide variety of issues,” Mayor Robert Mezzo said.
Larry Santoro, president of the ambulance service, declined to comment on the ownership of the building.
The one-story building, constructed in 1970, exceeds 5,200 square feet. The borough had been paying about $14,000 per year to the ambulance company for public works office space. Santoro said the borough stopped paying rent in January but would not comment on whether the ambulance service tried to impose any penalties.
The borough and Naugatuck Ambulance have been negotiating a range of issues since the contract between the two expired June 30, 2012. As required by the contract, the borough most recently paid the ambulance service a $148,000 yearly stipend.
After the contract expired, the borough made two quarterly payments exceeding $75,000, then claimed the payments were a mistake and demanded their return. The payments have not been returned and the borough has not paid any more money, Santoro said.
“It has financially affected us,” Santoro said. “There’s been some belt tightening, let’s put it that way.”
The service has not cut personnel or made any other changes that patients would notice, Santoro said. Naugatuck Ambulance must continue operating in the borough, with or without a stipend, as long as it maintains the Primary Service Area Responder designation it holds from the state.
A series of conflicts between the borough and Naugatuck Ambulance began two years ago when the ambulance service tried to eliminate its on-site paramedic position and call them instead as needed from Waterbury. After borough officials accused Santoro of breaking the contract, he agreed to keep the paramedics, but the controversy led borough officials to solicit bids for emergency medical services.
An ad hoc emergency medical services committee recommended the borough switch to Campion Ambulance, which bid $96,000 to Naugatuck Ambulance’s $296,000. Naugatuck Ambulance, however, refused to give up its state designation, which can only be revoked if a service is not providing adequate patient care.
Santoro said he has since proposed to operate with a $105,000 yearly stipend if the borough pays separately for dispatch services. Naugatuck Ambulance has been contracting dispatchers, but borough officials said they wanted to put those services out to bid themselves.
Santoro said there is no question in his mind that Naugatuck Ambulance should be able to remain in the Rubber Avenue building.
“It’s part of the negotiations on their part,” Santoro said. “We’re negotiating our proposal, which includes cost for services.”