The board which oversees operation of West Side Community Ambulance will likely remain two members short of a full complement of directors through late 2020.

The short-handed ambulance board, which has been operating for months with the bare minimum of three members required to conduct business, had planned to put its two vacant seats up for election in November of this year but last week decided to push the election back to November 2020.

After adopting a resolution in May to put the seats up for election this November, the board learned that its election would probably be the only one on the local ballot - and therefore the entire cost would fall to the West Side Community Healthcare District, which operates the ambulance.

If the district did pursue the election, one of the seats would be back on the November 2020 ballot regardless as the term expires, legal counsel Nicolas Cardella advised the ambulance board last week.

“In 2019, at least as of last week, we were the only ones asking for anything to be on the ballot. The district would shoulder the entire cost of holding the election,” said Cardella. “In light of these cost issues, we need to make a decision as to whether we want to shoulder the additional costs of filling these seats and as soon as we can or whether we are content to continue operating with three board members until the 2020 election, at which time we would have minimal costs.”

A third option, Cardella noted, is to simply declare the seats vacant and attempt to fill the posts through special appointment. But Stanislaus County officials have in the past challenged the district’s ability to do so.

Cardella said he believes the district could make a case for its legal authority to do so, but acknowledged that “there are a lot of issues with that, and I think it would be counter-productive given our history with these seats.”

The district has no firm cost estimate on holding a November 2019 election but Dennis Brazil, board president, estimated that the tab would be $10,000 or more.

And, Cardella pointed out, there is no promise that any candidates would step forward to run for seats on the ambulance board, which historically have drawn little interest.

The two vacant seats are those representing the rural Newman and Newman city zones.

None of the three sitting board members - Brazil, David Varnell and Charles Tanner - expressed interest in moving forward with a November 2019 election given the potential costs involved.

“I think we would be wasting taxpayer money by doing that,” Varnell stated.

“I don’t think it is feasible,” Brazil said of a 2019 election. “We should wait for the 2020 election to be square with the rest of the county and the normal election cycle.”

Most public agencies have aligned with even-year election cycles. The cost of holding an election is shared among the agencies participating, so a crowded ballot equates to lower expenses for each.

The district will, however, take one final look at whether it can be authorized to fill the seats by special appointment.

Brazil asked Cardella to confer with Stanislaus County legal counsel and pose the question of appointment authority to the state’s attorney general.

Cardella indicated that he was not “terribly optimistic” about the prospects for a favorable opinion, but said he would pursue that option.

Varnell expressed concern about being two members short for the long haul.

“If one of us gets sick or something happens, we’re dead in the water,” he said.

That’s not entirely true, Cardella said, because should an additional seat be vacated the district would have a fresh window of opportunity to appoint a replacement.

“You would be able to make an appointment as long as you do it within 90 days,” he stated.

Filling the two vacant seats has proven to be no small challenge.

The board attempted to appoint two applicants earlier this year, only to learn that it had not acted within the required time frame to make the appointments under its own authority. The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors could have made the appointments within an additional 30-day window, but has taken the position that it can only appoint applicants who reside within the geographical district they will represent.

Neither of the two candidates put forth for consideration at the county level lived in the board zones with vacancies, so the county declined to seat those individuals.

As a result, the ambulance board has continued to operate as a three-person governing body and given the latest decision will likely do so for another 18 months.