Port Angeles considers Medic I utility rate hike to cover out-of-towners who don't pay bills

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Port Angeles emergency officials blame gaps in ambulance service payments from those living outside the town for a need to seek an increase in the city's Medic I utility rate, which funds the city's emergency medical response services.

Port Angeles Fire Chief Ken Dubuc is asking for an 8 percent increase in Medic I utility rates for 2013, which would amount to residential customers paying an additional 38 cents per month — increasing the monthly residential charge to $5.12 — and business customers paying an additional 40 cents per month — increasing the monthly business charge to $5.38.

The requested 2013 rates increase the residential rates by $4.56 per year and business rates by $4.80 per year.

“They're fairly modest increases, but they're needed to help us meet increasing costs,” Dubuc said at a Port Angeles Utility Advisory Committee meeting this week.

Dubuc received a unanimous 6-0 recommendation from Utility Advisory Committee members to pass the rate changes along to the City Council for a public hearing and vote at the council's Nov. 20 meeting.

Dubuc also is requesting a 6 percent increase in both residential and customer Medic I rates for 2014, which would mean 31 cents more per month for residential customers and 32 cents more per month for business customers.

This increase also will be brought forward at the Nov. 20 City Council meeting.

In total, residential customers could pay an additional $8.28 annually over the next two years, while business customers are looking at paying an additional $8.64 per year over the same time period.

Unpaid bills

At the Utility Advisory Committee meeting Tuesday, Dubuc said many individuals who live outside the Port Angeles city limit and get Port Angeles-based ambulance service are failing to pay the invoices they receive from the Port Angeles Fire Department, which manages the ambulances.

“People simply aren't paying their bills,” Dubuc said. “It's not just a Port Angeles thing; it's very widespread.”

Individual charges for ambulance service range from $500 to $750, Dubuc explained, depending on what level of medical care is needed.

People who live within the city limit already pay for this charge through the Medic I utility fee, Dubuc explained, and are not billed for ambulance service.

The declines in bill-paying added to increases in operating costs for ambulance crews, such as fuel and medicine expenses, are the two main drivers of the proposed rate increase, Dubuc said.

Dubuc said the 8 percent increase would bring in about $44,000 and cover last year's losses and this year's costs, and allow the department to break even.

The 6 percent increase would be expected to cover the expected losses for 2014, Dubuc explained, and establish roughly $8,000 in reserves, which Dubuc said is the best-case scenario.

Mike Jacobs, executive director of Crestwood Convalescent Center in Port Angeles, represented adult-care facilities at Tuesday's meeting, since such centers pay separate Medic I rates and would be especially impacted by the increases.

Crestwood, for example, would pay an additional $216 per year — $2,698 in 2012 to $2,914 in 2013 — under the proposed rate increases.

Consistent bill-paying

At the meeting, Jacobs said he spoke with representatives from other adult-care facilities in the city and received the consensus that these centers could handle the increases, though he also heard disappointment that individuals aren't able to consistently pay their ambulance bills.

“But I understand completely that those are the economic woes we're going through in this country,” Jacobs said.

John LeClerc, executive director of Park View Villas retirement community, which stands to pay an additional $476 per year in 2013 under the new increases, said it's unfortunate rates have to go up for everyone because some are not paying their share, though he said he understands such increases are necessary for emergency services to continue.

“That's disappointing: that we would have to pay more because other people aren't paying their bills,” LeClerc said.

“But it still needs to be paid for.”

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 14. 2012 6:16PM
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