A proposal to start charging residents for emergency medical service provided by the city's firefighter/paramedics will be heard Tuesday by Murrieta City Council.
City staff, including Murrieta Fire Chief Matt Shobert, will ask council members during a 4:30 p.m. workshop to consider a $48 yearly household subscription for unlimited medical aid calls. It would cost $24 for residents who qualify as low-income. Businesses would be charged between $75 and $300 per year based on the amount of employees.
If residents and businesses chose not to subscribe, they would be charged $350 for one emergency medical response. The proposal is supported by Murrieta City Manger Rick Dudley and other senior management, according to a staff report.
Shobert said he is in a favor of a subscription fee because the fire department is at a "structural imbalance."
"We have been spending some reserves and if we are going to maintain this high level of service, we have to come up with an alternative funding source or cost recovery," Shobert said, in a telephone interview Saturday.
Residents currently pay for fire protection as part of their property tax bill, and would continue to receive fire service regardless, he said. Cats stuck in a backyard, smoke alarms activating and the like would still be covered at no additional charge, he said.
The push for the extra revenue stems back to nine years ago when the fire department added paramedic service to its previously sole service of fire protection, he said. It was because of inadequate response times from county-contracted American Medical Response, he said.
's stated response times are within six minutes, 90 percent of the time, with the goal of being on scene within five and a half minutes. The county contracts American Medical Response to arrive within nine minutes, 59 seconds, 90 percent of the time.
"The paramedic program was an unfunded mandate in the name of service to our residents," Shobert said. "This is really about trying to maintain the costs associated with our paramedic program. Most of the time we get there first and initiate service and get very little back from the county or AMR."
(Murrieta City Council has requested that the Riverside County Board of Supervisors for the county's ambulance provider, as AMR has held the contract for decades.)
According to Shobert, under AMR's contract with Riverside County Emergency Medical Services Agency, the city is supposed to get one-for-one, meaning bandages, IVs and other equipment used. But they are only seeing a return of about 30 percent of that right now, he said.
In addition, if AMR arrives on scene after 10 minutes, the city can charge $5 a minute, Shobert said. The fire department received about $25,000 in late fees from AMR last year, he said.
"That certainly doesn't go very far when an EKG (lifeplan) costs about $30,000," he said.
The fire department's operating budget for fiscal year 2011-2012 is $11.8-million. It had a reserve of $8.8 million as of July 1, 2011. As of June 30, 2012, a reserve of $4.2 million was projected, meaning the department will have spent $1.5 million in economic contingency funds and $3 million of the reserve pot, according to a December 2011 city report.
Of the department's revenue, a projected $8.3 million was expected from property tax assessments.
The paramedic fees could bring in between $400,000 and $700,000 per year, according to a city staff report, while reducing out-of-pocket costs for emergency supplies.
If Murrieta were to adopt the program, it would not be alone. Several California cities already provide the optional subscription. Corona offers the service for $48 per household, Anaheim charges $36, Burbank brings in $48, Huntington Beach charges $60 and San Clemente $40.
As far as the administrative costs of implementing and tracking the subscriptions and entitled residences and businesses, Shobert cautioned the proposal was still in its infancy.
He said he was anticipating City Council reaction. No vote was scheduled to take place during Tuesday's workshop at
"This is strictly a draft proposal in the early stages of the drawing board," Shobert said.
"We are not trying to defer people from calling 911, we are trying to generate a cost-recovery mechanism to support our firefighter/paramedics."