A divided Santa Clara County board of supervisors Tuesday voted to hold off on negotiations for a new ambulance provider to allow more time to review competing proposals for the five-year contract.
County Executive Jeffrey V. Smith had asked the board to authorize negotiations with low-bidder Rural/Metro Corp. of Arizona. If those talks failed to produce a deal, the county would stick with Colorado-based American Medical Response, which has been providing the service in one form or another since the 1930s.
But supervisors Don Gage, Liz Kniss and Ken Yeager argued for more time for the public to review the proposals, plus an assessment of the companies' financial viability and any financial relationships they have with local cities.
"Just because one is the low bidder doesn't mean they're the best for the job," Gage said.
It was unclear how much Tuesday's vote would delay the process, but supervisors still hope to award the five-year contract valued at $375 million in December.
San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Milpitas Mayor Robert Livengood had questioned whether the smaller Rural/Metro company is up to the task.
"They need to do due diligence to get this right," Reed said afterward.
San Jose worked with AMR to develop its proposal in hope of recovering more of the city's emergency medical response costs for its firefighters, who typically are first to arrive on the scene. City officials have said San Jose recovers only about a third of its costs, essentially creating a $3.1 million annual subsidy to the county, other cities and the ambulance service.
Supervisors Dave Cortese and George Shirakawa, Jr., favored initiating talks with Rural/Metro. Cortese criticized Reed for seeking a delay, questioning whether the mayor's comments could invite a lawsuit by the losing company. Rural/Metro officials declined comment.
"I have to represent the people of San Jose," Reed countered "and sometimes I have to speak up."