It’s too early to know the full impact of the previous Board of Supervisors’ decision to impose charges on ambulance transports, but some significant trends are emerging.
First is that the fees charged to insurance providers primarily offset real estate tax increases. With most of the collected money going to pay for the cost of the billing program, county-owned public safety stations and county-purchased response vehicles, supervisors—at least technically— can take a half-penny or so off the tax rate.
The second trend is that not a lot of money is trickling down to the volunteer companies. That’s simply a function of the allocation formula, which seeks to reimburse the parties providing the resources on each call. As the county government takes on more responsibility to provide career staffing, replace aging fire and rescue stations and picks up more of the costs upgrading response apparatus, it gets a larger allocation of the ambulance fees. Countywide, volunteers are running a lower percentage of calls and are increasingly using county resources in their response. It is a trend that will continue.
The third take away is that more than ambulance fees will be required to keep volunteer operations up and running. Why should you bother to join the rescue squad or donate money if you’re paying for the service? Because your taxes, and the cost of transports, will go up as the support for volunteers wanes.
It has been an expensive culture shift as fewer residents were available to man the stations and paid staffers shifted from providing fill-in support to handling a majority of the calls. And the cost of equipment today has outpaced the fund-raising ability of most independent companies. Ambulance fees will be part of that fiscal puzzle going forward, but public support for the volunteer companies should be as well.