Five months after it was first proposed, Murrieta City Council approved a fee Tuesday for residents who receive emergency medical treatment from the
The Emergency Medical Response Fee and Subscription Program was up for its second reading Tuesday before it could officially be enacted.
Councilman Randon Lane opposed the fee during both votes.
"I would restate to my colleagues that this is something that should be left to the voters to decide if they would want to pay...it is incumbent of us to abide by the voters," Lane said.
The EMS fee is $48 per year per household—or $4 a month. Those who choose not to subscribe to the fee will be billed $350 per occurrence. Businesses would be charged on a sliding scale based on the number of employees.
Fees could be set to be deducted monthly as automatic bank account withdrawals.
For the first year of the program, a special exception would apply to those were not subscribed: they would be charged half-price, or $175, if they received emergency medical treatment.
Half-price subscription options would also be offered to low-income residents and those who receive government-funded medical coverage.
Murrieta Fire Chief Matt Shobert along with city staff proposed the subscription program in order to recoup the cost of having paramedics aboard city fire engines.
The cost was not figured in to property tax assessments paid by residents because the Department did not have paramedics when the taxes were set. The the city is limited in its ability to increase the taxes because of propositions passed by state voters in 1978 and 1996.
"Our mistake was our timing; we should have done this 10-12 years ago," Shobert said.
The Fire Department's 2012-2013 fiscal year operating budget of $11.41 million showed $10.23 million in revenue and the use of $1.17 million in economic contingency funds. Of revenue, $8.37 million was expected from taxes and $1.52 million from assessments.
A $700,000 budget gap was predicted. Cost-cutting measures considered included closing a fire station.
The EMS fee is expected to supplement the Fire Department budget by $350,000 to $400,000 a year.
"We expect $500,000 in revenue for the year. We expect a 10 percent service charge [to administer the program] and we also recognize that you are going to have some folks who don't pay," said City Manager Rick Dudley. "So basically we reduced it by $100,000 to allow for proper projections."
Four residents spoke in favor of the fee, while three voiced their opinion against it.
"The city has seen fit to approve a tax which you call a fee without voter approval," said resident Linda Weinke. "You are our representatives; shame on you for passing a tax without our approval."
City Attorney Jeffery Morris said under the California Constitution, the fee is not what is considered a tax.
"A tax is a property assessment on every parcel in the city," Morris said. "A fee is a special charge for a user."
Dudley said it boiled down to a "fee for services," such as recreation fees and building and planning fees.
"Those are in addition because they are uniquely benefitting, and the other residents shouldn't be charged for those services," Dudley said.
Resident Barbara Nugent said she would gladly pay it.
"I think the chief and the staff have done all they can...and chief I would like to be the first one to give you that $48," Nugent said.
Faye Wons, also a Murrieta resident, agreed.
"This is really very nominal...$48 is not a lot of money. So I would have to give up my Pepsis for a month," Wons said.
Council passed the ordinance with a 3-1 vote, with Councilwoman Kelly Bennett not in attendance. With the second passage, the subscription program and fee could take effect in as soon as 30 days, (See a full PDF of the ordinance attached to this article.)
"This is about looking for a solution to solve a problem," said Mayor Doug McAllister. "...It is a legitimate tool of government to solve real problems. It is not a loophole."