Jefferson County residents will face a $40 fee for ambulance services in the county beginning July 1, 2014. The approval of the bill came after months of discussion between the County Commission, members of the Jefferson County Emergency Services Agency, the Fire and Rescue Association many members of the public.
The $40 fee is much less than proposed in a draft ordinance constructed by a committee set forth to study the issue. Members of the JCESA had called for an $85 fee which they say would fund the nine positions sought to provide supplemental EMS service throughout the county.
Commissioner Lyn Widmyer, who voted against lowering the fee to $40, explained that according to the information and statistics provided, the lower fee would not adequately cover costs. Dale Manuel agreed and hoped to gain consensus on the proposed $85. He was not successful in doing so.
Both the JCESA and members of the volunteer companies in the county have been vocal in their disapproval of the commission's actions.
Ed Hannon, deputy director of the JCESA, indicated that he did not believe the lower fee would cover the costs needed to provide the service required.
"We're disappointed that the comissioners chose not to listen to our needs and went forward with their own opinion," Hannon said.
Matching those sentiments, Chris Higdon, vice president of the county's Fire and Rescue Association, stated in a column written for The Journal that the group, "as a result of the inadequate fee amount of $40 proposed and agreed by the Jefferson County Commission, the JCFRA feels obligated to denounce the proposed $40 fee.
"In light of all of the work, time and efforts of many, for the sole purpose of better serving the community ... we do not support a $40 fee to the citizens that will not benefit from it. The proposed fee amount assumes 100 percent collection and will cover only nine staff positions. Looks good on paper, but simply not a true measure of what is needed. And it gets worse. All the while as the JCFRA pleads for additional funding due to shortfalls, and an inadequate fee proposal the fire companies are now faced with a potential 5 percent funding cut. So, we are at half of the original request of an $85 proposed fee to $40 proposed fee, plus the potential of a 5 percent cut across the board? Figure the math!"
Commissioner Patsy Noland, who voted for the lower fee, explained that the fee when originally discussed was to cover fire and rescue. With legalities evolving over the combination fee, the commission acted solely on an ambulance fee.
"I feel the $40 is adequate based on the numbers given by the Emergency Services Agency," she said. She went on to say that the Commission has taken the burden of staffing positions to bill and collect the fee. Those positions will report directly to the county's administrative offices and their associated costs will not come out of the budget of the ESA.
Manuel stressed that the Commission will review the fee annually to determine if it should be adjusted.
Details of how the fee will be billed to citizens of the county are still under discussion. The bill may come as an extra bill included with, but not part of, the county tax bills. Noland indicated that was still being worked out; however, she said it is not possible to add the fee to the existing tax bill.