May 20, 2010

Ambulance fee passes with 5-4 vote; volunteers oppose

Montgomery County will join Prince George's County, Washington, D.C., and other neighboring jurisdictions in charging a fee to use ambulance services. The council voted Wednesday to allow fees of about $400 to be charged for out-of-county residents to use county ambulance services. Supporters say that insurance companies, for the most part, will pay the fee. Those without insurance will receive a bill, but the fee will be waived for those who cannot afford it. The ambulance fee was one of several new fees and taxes the Montgomery County Council approved Wednesday to help fill the county's $1 billion budget shortfall.

The vote was 5-4, with council members Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg, Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac, Nancy M. Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring and Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring opposed. After the vote, Eric N. Bernard, executive director of the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire-Rescue Association, said his organization would oppose the five council members who voted in favor of the fee in this year's election.

"All they see are dollar signs," he said. "Not life signs."

Bernard said the public overwhelmingly opposes an ambulance fee, which was first proposed in the county about seven years ago. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has proposed an ambulance fee for the past three years, including this year, when he said the fee would help raise about $13 million in fiscal 2011. The tax will support the county's fire and rescue services. During the first year, the fees can supplant other tax money, but in subsequent years, the money can be used only for new projects and programs. SOURCE: Gazette

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