October 13, 2010

World-class scare campaign over ambulance fees is here

[Recently], Maryland's highest court ordered that the EMS transport fee — or ambulance fee — petition be placed the November ballot, ruling that the County Board of Elections improperly rejected tens of thousands of signatures submitted by the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire-Rescue Association. Although more than 52,000 county residents signed the petition to place ambulance fees on the ballot for a vote, County Executive Isiah Leggett intervened in the court case in order to thwart a vote by the people on the ambulance fee law.

With the ink on the court's order barely dry, the county executive's spokesperson already is warning of drastic spending cuts, including to public safety programs. [Recently], County Council member Phil Andrews accurately predicted: "I think you're going to see a world-class scare campaign starting in the next week or two." But he was wrong on one point: it's already started.

But consider the facts. First, since the law was enacted in May, not one cent of ambulance fee revenue has been collected, and no fees would have been collected until the end of the year — at the earliest. Second, the legislation explicitly states that ambulance fee revenue would go into the fiscal 2011 general fund — and not be earmarked for the fire/rescue service. If there was no such earmark, why is the executive now calling for cuts in public safety programs? Third, the $12.5 million at issue is just one-third of 1 percent of the overall $4 billion county budget.

Surely, the county could find that kind of money by cutting back on travel, conferences and other non-essential services. Additionally, last year the county was able to close a gap of over $100 million through mid-year cuts. The county did this without the loss of jobs or cutting vital public safety services. That still can be done with good management.

We're confident county residents will reject ambulance fees, and vote no on the ballot question, because they may deter calls to 911 when help is needed most, will drive up insurance costs and should not be charged for a service often provided for free by volunteer fire/rescue personnel. In doing so, they will expect county leaders to find other ways to make up the one-third of 1 percent of the county-funded budget. That's not too much to ask of our elected leaders.

Marcine D. Goodloe, Rockville

The writer is president of the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire-Rescue Association.
SOURCE: Individual writer and Gazette

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