Excerpts from the ChicagoTribune.com:
Tinley Park is being sued over $492,000 its former ambulance contractor claims it is owed from the village.
Tinley officials have adamantly denied owing Trace Ambulance any money for past services while Trace previously billed Tinley for $492,000. A Will County court may end up deciding who is right in a controversy that has been simmering since summer 2014, when Tinley Park dropped longtime vendor Trace Ambulance for New Lenox-based Kurtz Ambulance.
Christopher Vandenberg, president of the company based in Tinley Park, said Trace “attempted for several months” to reach an agreement with the village, but Tinley “continued to deny that any amount was due to Trace.”
“Unfortunately, because the Village was unwilling to even acknowledge that any amounts were owed, we were left with no choice but to initiate the litigation to recover the amounts we were contractually due,” Vandenberg said in an email.
Dave Niemeyer, Tinley’s Village Manager, said the village is “vigorously defending this claim” but declined further comment.
In court documents, Tinley Park has denied owing Trace any money and denied that Trace complied with all its contractual obligations. The lawsuit was filed in Will County earlier this year. At a Friday hearing, a Will County judge scheduled status hearing in the case for Jan. 5.
The lawsuit asks for a judge to declare that Tinley “is obligated to compensate Trace pursuant to the contract,” Vandenberg said. The lawsuit does not specify how much Tinley allegedly owes, but $492,000 is what the company billed Trace last year, and Tinley refused to pay, Niemeyer said.
Vandenberg, whose relative Jake Vandenberg is a trustee on the village board, said he still hopes “that we can avoid the expense of prolonged litigation and resolve this matter amicably.” Jake Vandenberg said in an email that he has “zero financial interest” in the ambulance company and has not participated in any board discussions about Trace or any litigation it is involved in with the village.
The financial dispute began last summer, after Tinley awarded Kurtz a contract worth an estimated $3.7 million through July 2018. Tinley sought a new ambulance contract in spring 2014, and Kurtz and Trace were the only competitors.
Trace contends its expired deal with Tinley said the village would pay $200 for each hour the town required more than the number of ambulances stipulated in the contract. After Tinley Park dropped Trace, the company tallied those hours since May 2010 and sent the village a final bill totaling $492,206.
The village received its final bill from Trace less than two weeks after Kurtz took over. In a written response to Trace’s invoice last summer, Tinley Park Treasurer Brad Bettenhausen said the village was surprised, “as we had not been previously advised such charges existed.”
“It would be expected that had such charges arisen, they would have been brought (to) the village’s attention and billed at regular intervals over the course of the contract period, with such billing expected to occur no less than annually,” Bettenhausen wrote the company at the time. “No such notice or billing of such charges has occurred” before the bill.
The town denied Trace’s bill and also questioned its accuracy, saying it could find no record that it had requested the additional service.
Switching vendors was a contentious process for the village.
The first signs of conflict emerged at a public safety meeting in May 2014, when village officials revealed the Kurtz bid had come in significantly lower than Trace’s. Trace executives warned that the health care industry is undergoing many changes and changing vendors would be a risk.
Ultimately, Tinley officials said they made the switch because Trace’s proposal was 21 percent more expensive than Kurtz’s.
Trace shares a long history with Tinley, having served as the village’s ambulance provider since 1979 except for a brief interruption in the 1990s, officials previously said.