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Council Supports Paramedic Fee For Residents

A plan to charge residents an optional $48 paramedic response fee could come back for adoption within six weeks. Those who don't enroll would be billed $350 per occurrence.

The city of Murrieta will move forward in proposing an optional for its residents.

Though no vote was taken, a majority of City Council members said Tuesday they would support it as a partial solution for a bigger problem brought on by a shrinking Murrieta Fire Department reserve pot. In two to four years, the reserves will be gone, officials said.

"We are scrutinizing a cost that is technically not our responsibility but we have been forced to provide it," said Councilman Alan Long. "What we need to look at first (is) can we continue to provide that (and) do our residents want us to provide that?...A fire department is really an inaccurate description of what they do now."

When firefighter/paramedics are called and provide acute care, Murrieta Fire Chief Matt Shobert is proposing charging residents and business owners a $350 fee in an effort to recoup their costs. Those who chose to subscribe annually by paying a $48 fee—or a sliding scale fee for businesses—would qualify for unlimited calls.

"This is a subscription program. If people don’t want to pay we won’t know the difference whether they are a subscriber or not until several days later," Shobert said. "It is not a tax; it is more of an appeal to our community."

No residents spoke in opposition of the fee during Tuesday's nearly two-hour workshop.

Three residents told Council members they would pay $48.

"I don’t have $48 but I will scrounge cans and bottles to pay for it because it is something I need," said resident Diana Serafin.

Chief states case

Shobert said a fiscal imbalance began in 2000 when the department started including paramedics on its engines. This was due to inefficient response times from county ambulance provider American Medical Response, he said.

"Roughly two-thirds of the (7,000) calls we respond to in a year are for medical emergencies," Shobert told Council members.

Murrieta firefighter/paramedics usually arrive on scene prior to American Medical Response, he said. The department arrives within six minutes, 90 percent of the time. AMR—under its contract with Riverside County Emergency Medical Services Agency—must arrive within nine minutes, 59 seconds.

Declining revenue

The Fire Department is funded by property tax assessments, which are based on when the department was formed to strictly provide fire protection. With the declining revenue brought on by lower tax rolls experienced since 2008, Shobert said the department has shaved seven administrative positions.

Firefighters have also made concessions, he said, and they no longer travel for training.

The department has also cut back 60 percent on overtime, from $2.5 million to under $1 million this year, he said.

Shobert said short of closing down a fire station and cutting jobs, he is recommending the fee program.

Not so fast

Councilman Randon Lane said he preferred to let residents vote on whether they would support a fee.

"You are calling it a voluntary $48, but the $350 on the back end is not voluntary," Lane said. "Let's ask the voters to make a decision on that and not dictate from here that (they) are going to be assessed that fee...I believe our citizens would support a $48 a year...but to do this tonight, I can not support it."

Lane also advised waiting until the Riverside County Board of Supervisors votes on whether to openly bid the county ambulance contract that has been long-held by AMR.

The cities of Murrieta and Temecula, as well as the Riverside County Fire Department, The supervisors are set to discuss the issue at a meeting next week.

Councilman Long cautioned the county has quoted it could take three to five years for a change to take effect, should it go out to bid.

"We have pleaded with the county to do this for years," Long said. "Since day one.

"If we chose to take paramedics off the engines, we would then force the county into providing the service that is their responsibilty...we have very little say-so...
we take that away we will be giving our citizens a response time that is unacceptable..."

Time is ticking

Mayor Doug McAllister said the Council will not accept a 10-minute response time. Council is expected to tackle the issue again in six weeks.

"We have until six weeks from now to come up with a solution," McAllister said. To do nothing is not an option; the problem has to be solved."

It would take a month or so to draft a program for implementation, City Manager Rick Dudley said.

"The hope would be to get this in place by the 2012-2013 fiscal year that begins in July," Dudley said.

Rob March 07, 2012 at 06:54 PM
With 37% of all city workers making over a $100K/year our tax dollars are siphoned of so they can live fat and happy.. when the people need LIFE-SUPPORITNG EMERGENCY care (the CORE duty of the city) we must PAY! WAKE UP MURRIETA! Recall every one of these morons. PS: NO ONE WILL PAY IT. It will be a surcharge on every call.
eric March 07, 2012 at 08:41 PM
I will be happy to pay this as it supports our local fire department. Good job council for giving us this option.
Patrick Smith March 07, 2012 at 10:02 PM
You have my vote. If most of us could be a have a job helping others with that kind of pay and benefits and retirement and work schedule.... most of the calls are for EMT's not fighting fires. Our U.S. service men are the ones that fight.... but it's ok to shaft them. don't all firemen need to be EMT trained these days? If not Murrieta should only hire ones that are.... there are thousands of great people that will take this job. How is taxing us more for something we already pay for a good option? Seriously, cut pay, cut benefits, cut the 40K paid to DC lobbist.... but please don't ask the already over taxed, over bonded, hard working people that pay the bills for more money. Get real.
Robin Crist March 08, 2012 at 01:39 AM
I agree with Councilman Lane to take it to the voters!
Tacpilot March 08, 2012 at 07:08 AM
What about the citizens on the east side of "Murrieta" off Winchester where CalFire responds as mutual aid???
Tacpilot March 08, 2012 at 07:10 AM
The politicians need to take a good look at what happened to Norco FD... Now CalFire Murrieta isn't far behind...
Jon Smit March 08, 2012 at 05:17 PM
I don't like this on bit! I agree with "Tacpilot", if the city is hurting for money, that they now want to charge the tax paying citizens for public assistance, they need to reevaluate their expenses. Why do we need to pay extra when we already pay for Fire/ PD in our taxes? Same reason why I ask, why does Murrieta PD need a swat team? We have the 4th lowest crime rate in the nation but that’s another argument. Maybe this is a way the city is going to try to incorporate the thought of public ambulances in to the FD and out bid AMR, which doesn’t cost the city a single penny. Riverside City Fire doesn’t send a Medic Engine company anymore for the very same reason. Now, AMR responds and if they need assistance they’ll request FD. To reiterate what “Tacpilot” said, Norco is now Cal Fire because the NFD got too expensive for the city. San Miguel Fire (San Diego county) is also doing the same thing watch the video: http://www.smgfire.org/smg_rfp.html It’ll be $48 this year but maybe $448 in a couple of years, if this keeps going. I’m pretty sure we can have Cal Fire/ AMR respond for a ratio of the price.
Wes March 09, 2012 at 05:51 PM
The whole reason they are proposing the "insurance" is because of a coming budget shortfall. I am curious to see where the city has cut spending before they start charging additional money for services I've already paid for. I moved to Murrieta in 2005 and bought a new house, which includes a supplemental tax of almost 1% to pay for infrastructure (i.e. fire, police, sewage), which I will pay for 30 years.
Joel March 11, 2012 at 04:10 AM
Just contract with CAL Fire and get it over with. Its been a long time coming.
MAC March 28, 2012 at 04:04 AM
"I will not accept a 10 minute response time"? You had over 400 in 2010! There were even some that were over 20 minutes!!! Those that were over 20 mins averaged OVER 24 minutes. Check the facts before you speak.
EMS mom March 29, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Very interesting article on how the Chief gets his numbers. You should read it. http://www.publicceo.com/2012/03/riverside-county-ems-debate-fact-check/ Fact Check: Riverside County, City of Murrieta EMS Debate | PublicCEO www.publicceo.com
EQ December 24, 2012 at 07:14 AM
Just got my nice letter in the mail explaining this fee. If you really read this I will be charged $350 if I need medical services from the fire department that my taxes are already paying for? Are you kidding me right now? This is a tax is what it is. Don't let anyone try and tell you this has anything to do with response times or poor fire fighter budgets. I respect the department for what they do but this is a TAX in disguise. I can't believe this TAX passed. Unbelievable. Out elected officials continue to hose the taxpayer.
LetsBfair December 24, 2012 at 09:59 AM
Your new concilmember Ramos "does not" support this tax. We need to organize a couple of hundred residents who will commit to showing up to city council meetings and we can get this reversed. If only 2 people show up to meetings we will have nothing to complain about because we have submitted due to laziness.

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