Lynden mayor says lower ambulance fee to be considered

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 20, 2014 

Lynden ambulance fee

Lynden firefighters Patrick Williams, left, Paul Pluschakov, Lt. Michael Whittley and Justin Rasmussen load a patient into the back of a Whatcom Medic One unit on Front Street in Lynden Wednesday morning, Feb. 19, 2014. The Lynden City Council is discussing how to pay for emergency medical services.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

LYNDEN - If the city decides to charge a monthly fee for a proposed ambulance utility, it would do so at a lower rate than the nearly $12 a month included in a consultant's report.

That's what Lynden Mayor Scott Korthuis said Tuesday, Feb. 18, during a public hearing after some in the audience said that nearly $144 a year was too much money.

"First of all, no rate has been set. We are not looking to go to $12 a month," Korthuis said, adding that a much lower amount would be considered.

Actually $11.99, the figure was among the rates in a report by Redmond-based FCS Group, which provided a number of scenarios for how much the City Council could charge residents, businesses and public facilities like schools to cover the cost of emergency medical services.

The report said the $11.99 figure was the amount that could be charged to ratepayers if the city wanted them to cover the full cost of the service, identified at $812,189 a year. The rate could be as low as $2.70 a month if the city's goal is to cover a federal grant that ends in March 2015, according to the report.

People who spoke at the public meeting indicated that paying nearly $144 a year was too great a burden on low-income residents or those struggling to make a living in today's economy, although one man who had suffered three hearts attacks praised the fire department for helping him and supported the idea of an ambulance utility fee.

The fee amount, or even whether the council would create an ambulance utility, is yet to be decided.

The council voted Tuesday to give the proposal to its Public Safety Committee for further study and recommendation. It will go back before the council at a special meeting March 10.

State law allows cities and towns to create an ambulance utility; about 10 in the state have created such utilities.

Since it's not defined as a tax, the fee doesn't require voter approval.

City leaders are looking for new revenue for emergency medical services because:

-- EMS calls have been increasing until they made up 87 percent of 1,257 emergency responses in 2012, with fire and other calls making up the rest.

-- The $241,000 federal grant that allowed the Lynden Fire Department to hire three new firefighters/EMTs will end March 2015. About $182,800 of that is attributed to EMS.

When city officials applied for the grant, they also committed to figuring out how to later pay for the added employees.

Covering the EMS portion of the grant would mean a monthly fee of $2.70, according to the report.

-- Lynden is going from a fire department that was fully manned by volunteers to a paid fire department. Also, the number of volunteer firefighters has dropped sharply from 31 in 2013 to 12 today; those volunteers augment the paid staff, which totals nine.

Residents in nursing homes/assisted living facilities who are on Medicaid couldn't be charged an ambulance utility, nor could Medicaid recipients receiving in-home care.

Korthuis said officials want to hear from the community as the city works to establish a level of service "we can both afford and be safe at."

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com .

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