The Board of Supervisors today gave the Orange County Fire Authority the go-ahead to pass along expenses for paramedic services to residents who call for an ambulance.
The board vote was 3-2, with Chairman Shawn Nelson and Supervisor John Moorlach casting the dissenting votes.
The Orange County Fire Authority's fee amounts to about $300 for a resident requiring "advanced-level life support," which includes an ambulance and a paramedic. The fee is included in the bill residents get for ambulance service.
Nelson and Moorlach favored another plan that would compel firefighters to collect the fee on their own.
Supervisor Patricia Bates said the plan backed by Nelson and Moorlach would generate "a burden of paperwork," which could boost administrative fees.
Nelson and Moorlach said the fee amounts to "double taxation" since the fire authority receives property taxes that should cover the cost of ambulance service.
"You're paying these (paramedics) the same whether they go on a run or not, so why charge a taxpayer for their time?," Moorlach said after today's board meeting.
"Is it really a justified fee? Therefore, if you want to charge for it then charge it separately," Moorlach said. "The whole (funding) model needs to be reevaluated, but you've got a firefighters union that's resistant to making any changes."
According to Nelson, firefighters don't usually spend much time battling blazes these days. Mostly, they are responding to medical calls and traffic crashes, the chairman said.
Authority officials compare the fee to the extra charges that come with specialized services such as from a planning department in some cities. The fee covers the ongoing costs of training and certifying the authority's paramedics, said Lori Zeller, the OCFA's assistant chief of business services.
One issue that remains unresolved is a proposal to reduce the number of contracts for ambulance service from 19 to five. The supervisors will likely decide that issue in April, Zeller said.
Nineteen cities in the county contract with the OCFA for ambulance service, but officials want to reduce the number of contracts to five and have the service handled regionally instead of city-by-city. They say it will drive down costs.
The OCFA's contracts with ambulance companies expire Aug. 31, Zeller said. A request-for-proposal process takes about four weeks, but officials want enough time to handle appeals and in some cases a transition period if a new company wins a bid, Zeller said.
Ambulance service in the county costs residents less than most other counties throughout the state, officials said.
The most expensive last year was in Butte County, where residents are charged $2,399 for advanced-level service. Orange County charges $1,096.82. Fresno's rate is the cheapest at $913.88.
--City News Service