UPDATE 10:20 p.m. Nov. 20:
Murrieta City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday night to approve an agreement with Fire Recovery, USA to collect the new emergency medical services fee.
Councilman Randon Lane cast the only no vote.
There was no further discussion on the matter, and no members of the public came forward to speak.
An emergency medical response fee to be charged to residents and businesses of Murrieta may go into effect as soon as Jan. 1.
Murrieta city council is scheduled to vote Tuesday night whether to award a contract to Fire Recovery USA for administration and billing related to the Emergency Medical Services Subscription Program.
In July, city council voted to establish the voluntary program and related response fees. This was in order to recoup paramedic-related costs incurred by the Murrieta Fire Department, as the city's fire engines are typically dispatched alongside ambulance crews to medical emergencies.
The council vote was was 4-1, with Councilman Randon Lane dissenting. Lane called the fee a "tax" and said citizens should be given the opportunity to vote on it.
Tuesday's city council meeting is set to begin at 6 p.m. Nov. 20 at 1 Town Square.
To avoid paying a commensurate $350 fee each time Murrieta fire paramedics respond to their home, residents may choose to pay a $48 annual subscription fee—$24 biannually. All inhabitants and guests in the home would be covered under the subscription.
Businesses in Murrieta may subscribe based on their amount of employees. Those with 1 to 10 employees would be charged $75; businesses with 11 to 25 employees would be charged $125; those with 26 to 75 employees, $200; and those with 76 or more employees, $300.
The subscription fee for all outpatient medical care facilities was set at $300.
Low-income residents and those who receive government-subsidized health care benefits would be billed a discounted rate of $24 a year or $12 twice a year.
The subscription fee does not cover or pay for transportation in an ambulance or other care provided by an ambulance company, city of Murrieta Management Analyst Diana Monaco wrote, in the agenda report.
Monaco wrote that Fire Recovery, USA, on behalf of the Fire Department, would maintain an automated website through which the subscription fees can be paid. The fee can also be submitted by check.
The company was selected as the "most qualified" through a bid process, Monaco wrote.
"Fire Recovery is currently contracted to provide similar services to more than 60 California fire departments and municipalities along with providing cost recovery services in 33 states throughout the U.S., and has been progressively providing cost recovery services for (the) past seven years," Monaco wrote.
Pending council approval, Fire Recovery has agreed to handle all advertising of the program, data management of all emergency medical incidents, provide performance reports and produce ongoing resident and business program mailers, as well as manage subscriber account set-ups, invoicing, accounts receivable and delinquent account collections.
City staff, including Murrieta fire Chief Matt Shobert and City Manager Rick Dudley, are recommending approval of a one-year period contract with Fire Recovery, with four one-year extensions based on satisfactory performance.
The initial cost to implement the program was estimated at $48,491, according to the agenda report.
Projected annual revenues were estimated between $350,000 and $400,000, staff wrote.
Fire Recovery, USA would be paid 22 percent of month-end revenues, with the balance sent to the Murrieta Fire Department, according to the agenda report.
"Once the program revenues have stabilized during year two and three, the collection fee may decrease based on the success of the program," Monaco wrote.
Shobert said pending council approval, the goal is to implement the fee program by Jan. 1.
"Pending approval, there will be a series of four mailers, PowerPoints, lots of information out there. There will be exhaustive measures taken to educate the community of how, who, what, when—all that," Shobert said.
Though residents pay an annual property tax for fire protection, city officials have said the tax is capped and does not take into account paramedic services.
Further, city officials have said that between 2008 and 2011, the Fire Department experienced a 24-percent decrease in revenue, mostly from declines in property tax revenue. A $700,000 budget gap during the current fiscal year was predicted for the Fire Department.
One Murrieta resident in particular has been vocal in her opposition to the fee.
"A $350 fee for sending the Fire Department out...is going to be a rude awakening for the person who needs help," said resident Jackie Fenaroli, at a previous city council meeting. "Most people would say no, I think that is what you would find most people would say."
Fenaroli has suggested the city find other ways to balance the Fire Department budget.