Wash. City Council Approves High Rate Increase for Ambulance Services
Dec. 14—The Ocean Shores City Council on Monday narrowly approved what opponents called a 254 percent increase in the monthly ambulance utility service fee as a prelude for completing the 2018 city budget, which also was approved on a 5-2 vote after several revisions.
The proposed 2018 budget has included a utility fee increase aimed at keeping the Fire Department at its current staffing level, and it is based on a consultant’s service and rate study “status quo” scenario. That results in a utility rate increase with a projected monthly cost to ratepayers of $19.03, as opposed to the current rate of $7.48 a month.
The report by the FCS Group consultants, “Ambulance Utility Cost of Service and Rate Study,” examines how the city can cover the cost of keeping the seven firefighter/paramedics after a federal grant that allowed them to be hired for two years expires at the end of this year.
After a public hearing, the council did agree to lower the proposed rate imposed on hotels and motels from $10.47 back to the current rate of $7.67, and base that on an occupancy rate of 40 percent, rather than the proposed 55 percent. A low-income rate has been preserved at $3.74 a month.
Finance Director Angela Folkers noted the city was required to hold the public hearing since it is proposing to discontinue any general fund budget support for the ambulance utitlity, which now will be entirely funded by ratepayers. The city already has given the required 30-day notice in utility bills, she said.
Shannon Rubin, manager of the Canterbury Inn, objected to the proposed rate and occupancy figures used to establish the initial fees for hotels and motels. Under the proposal, she estimated the Canterbury would have to pay an additional $4,110 a year.
“The fact of the matter is this should never have been brought up without approaching all of us,” Rubin said of what she perceived was a lack of effort to get accurate numbers for occupancy rates on “something that impacts us so drastically financially.”
Jim Davis, a longtime resident and Fire Department volunteer, said the fee increase was needed to keep up with growth in the city, noting that the Fire Department was literally unmanned at the present time because “everybody is out on a call.”
“There is one volunteer left in this town right now and that’s me,” Davis said. “…This money, we need it, we need to grow. We need to keep the boys that we have here to date.”
On the final proposal, Council members John Lynn, Gordon Broadbent, Holly Plackett and Bob Peterson voted for the increase, while Jackie Farra, Lisa Griebel and Jon Martin voted against it. Plackett later offered a proposal to scale back the increase in favor of using the city’s general fund to bear some of the costs of emergency medical services.
Lynn, who moved to pass the proposal in his final council meeting, previously noted that the Aberdeen EMS rate is $22.80 a month, and Hoquiam charges $19.23.
“I believe this brings us on par with Aberdeen and Hoquiam, none of which have a 20-minute commute to the hospital,” said Lillian Broadbent in support of the proposal.
Fire Chief David Bathke said that even with the increase allowing the city to retain the seven positions, the Fire Department still is at a “bare minimum” staffing level. He called the decision “a starting point” and vowed to continue to seek grant funding to bolster the department.
“Is it an increase? Yes, absolutely it’s an increase, be we need the service,” he said.
Opponents questioned why the costs of ambulance services were not supported with general fund revenue so that property owners and ratepayers would not bear the brunt of paying the cost.
“All of us who have spoken are asking you to look at the general fund,” said Susan Conniry, who will replace Lynn on the council next year. “Right now we are asking you to cut the budget to pay through the general fund for the people we need.”
After the council approved the ambulance fee increase, it completed the 2018 budget with some final additions and subtractions. A proposed effort to hire a city administrator in the final quarter of the year was eliminated, $20,000 was added to the money earmarked for abatements, $15,000 was approved for the Ocean Shores/North Beach Chamber of Commerce, and $20,000 for a conceptual design of a new city hall was removed.