OCEANSIDE — City Council looked at raising fees for ambulance services and fire re-inspections to narrow the gap that is paid out of city general funds to cover these services.The current charges for these services do not provide the city with full cost recovery.Council members postponed making a decision on raising ambulance service fees in a 4-1 vote April 4, in which Councilwoman Esther Sanchez voted no.
Councilman Jerry Kern requested the postponement and asked for more information on the study that advised the increase, and the Annual Consumer Price Index-Urban that is recommended to be adopted to determine future yearly increases.
Currently the city falls short $1 million in ambulance services cost recovery. Battalion Chief Peter Lawrence said increases in gas costs, updates to the ambulance radio computer systems, and basing annual increases on the Ambulance Inflation Factor index, which puts strict restrictions on how much fees can be raised, warrant a fee overhaul.
“We are charging significantly less than our neighboring cities,” Lawrence said.
Ambulance service fees are examined and adjusted every three to five years. The last rate increase for ambulance fees was in 2009.
Proposed rate increases will be tiered for residents and nonresidents. Basic life support services will increase from $600 to $840 for residents and from $950 to $1,290 for nonresidents.
Advanced life support services will increase from $725 to $1,010 for residents and $1,050 to $1,600 for nonresidents.
Mileage charges will rise from $16.25 to $25.
This means an Oceanside resident who has a health insurance plan with a 20 percent co-pay, will spend about $50 more out of pocket for advanced life support ambulance services.
There are safeguards for low-income patients. Elderly, low-income, active and retired military, Medicare and Medi-Cal patients will not be charged an increase in rates.
The increase is expected to put more than $350,000 a year back into the city budget.
Mayor Jim Wood said he was OK with postponing the vote in order for council members to get more information. Wood added that he was not sure he had the two additional votes needed to pass the fee increase that night.
“If I really knew I had three votes I’d go forward,” Wood said.
Sanchez said the increase is a necessary cost recovery measure.
“This is an essential service we provide,” Sanchez said. “These are not the kind of things we can cut. It’s a very different situation than public safety. We’re still going to have these costs.”
City Council will look at the increase in ambulance service fees again in May. The postponement will necessitate that the city manager present a budget with an additional $450,000 in cuts, in the event the ambulance service fees are not increased and the anticipated $450,000 in fees and incentives is not added back into the city budget.
Kern said the $450,000 cut would likely be a presented as a budget contingency.
The same night City Council OK’d charging fire re-inspection fees in a 3-2 vote, in which Kern and Councilman Gary Felien voted no. The OK will add an anticipated $100,000 a year to the city budget.
There was discussion on the fairness of charging $119 or more for re-inspections fees for occupancies, such as hotels, motels and vacation time-shares, that pay a first-time inspection fee of $119 but fail to pass their initial inspection.
Greg VanVoorhees, the acting assistant fire marshal, stated that occupancies have a 30-day notice of first inspections and are given a list of what will be inspected.
“There are no surprise visits,” VanVoorhees said. “We send them a laundry list of the top 20 items we inspect.”
VanVoorhees added that 75 percent of large facilities do not pass the first inspection.
Previously the city did not charge re-inspection fees. OK’d fees will be based on the size of the occupancy.
The OK helps close the $731,000 gap in annual inspection costs.