A couple of glitches in the rollout of the new paramedic response subscription program were acknowledged Tuesday by Murrieta Mayor Rick Gibbs.
As of Jan. 1, Murrieta residents became subject to a council-enacted $350 fee each time paramedics with the Murrieta Fire Department respond to treat them. An alternative to paying $350 is subscribing to the Murrieta Emergency Medical Response program at a rate of $48 annually year per household or a sliding scale starting at $75 for businesses.
Subscription enrollment forms, which gave residents and businesses the option to sign up online, began going out in the mail in late December and early January.
“The timing was impeccably bad that people received their notices right before the holidays—that was not supposed to happen,” Gibbs said, during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Gibbs, a senior citizen, said he became aware of another glitch when he attempted to sign up online. Being a senior citizen on Medicare, Gibbs said he was not given the option to pay a reduced fee.
Those living on reduced income or enrolled in Medi-Cal, Medicaid or Medicare are eligible for a 50 percent discount, according to the city's plan.
“I am qualified for the reduced fee program but I couldn’t do that online so the (fire) chief has taken care of that; he has gone out with a number of notices to our senior communities,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs invited anyone else who may have encountered the problem to email him at email@example.com, or contact the Murrieta Fire Department.
“My apologies that the rollout has been less than spectacular but we are working our way through it. If there is anybody out there who is qualified for low-income or on Medi-Cal, Medicaid or Medicare and you spent the $48 and sent it in, you are due $24 back.”
Addressing the general public, Gibbs went on to clarify the reasoning behind the city implementing the fee.
“In case you were wondering why all this was necessary, I will be succinct as possible,” Gibbs said. “When you say ‘my taxes paid for that,’ your property tax dollar, the city’s general fund gets 6 cents of every property tax dollar. That’s not a whole lot.”
He said the city receives twice that amount in sales tax revenue, while the Fire Department is a separate district that receives about 8 and seven-eighths of each property tax dollar.
“...They have their own funding. While (this fee) goes directly to the Fire Department it has nothing to do with our general fund...and so with the substantial downturn in revenue in the last five years, this was a poor choice we were faced with.
“But since we had taken a lot of concrete actions and cut $2 million out of the Fire Department budget we were really in a choice of either we ask folks to sign up for a fee like this or we were probably going to be faced with shutting a fire station, which was a very unpalatable choice.”
Editor's Note: Also on Tuesday, City Councilman Alan Long gave an update regarding a recent meeting with the Riverside County Emergency Medical Services Agency and American Medical Response, the company contracted to provide ambulance services in the county. Please check back soon with Patch for a story.