Emergency ambulance vehicle lights

Facing increased call volumes and overworked ambulance staff, College Place is considering a monthly utility fee of $8.52 per unit in order to hire four more firefighter/EMTs to service city residents.

The city, which started a Basic Life Support ambulance system at the end of 2018, has one paid EMT on-duty every day, 24/7, supplemented largely by volunteers. This system can fail when there are multiple calls at once or when staff are sick or on vacation, and it puts undue pressure on staff and volunteers, said Chief David Winter at a City Council meeting Tuesday, Oct. 12.

“We’re at a crisis point where we need some help from you for funding authorization to get some more staffing so that we don’t burn out our volunteers,” Winter told Council members Tuesday night.

The utility fee of $8.52 across 4,273 units would pay for an additional paid EMT to be on-duty 24/7, Winter said, and would make the city’s ambulance system more reliable. With call volumes increasing 20 percent in the last year, and with each call taking longer during the pandemic, the backup is greatly needed, he added.

The city’s ambulance services is currently funded from four sources, Winter said. It receives part of a countywide EMS property tax, and it receives federal funding to subsidize the transportation of Medicaid patients who can’t pay their full bill, though it only makes about half of the lost revenue.

The ambulance service also receives revenue by charging a flat fee for transporting patients, either $695 for county residents or $895 for patients who do not live in the county. However, on average, Winter said, the ambulance service only receives about half of that after dealing with insurance companies, averaging about $350 in revenue per transport.

Whatever doesn’t get covered by these three funding sources is covered by the city’s discretionary fund. Without a utility fee or other new revenue source, covering the salaries and benefits of another four EMTs would cost the city’s general fund more than $436,000 per year, said city Finance Director Brian Carleton during Tuesday’s meeting.

The city has discussed the utility fee several times in the past, and Winter suggested he would dance if it passed.

“You might get to see that Adventist interpretive dance at the next meeting,” he joked.

Emry Dinman can be reached at emrydinman@wwub.com or 425-941-5829.

Reporter covering agriculture, Walla Walla city and county government, and other topics.

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