EFR may start charging to respond to vehicle accidents
September 25, 2012
By Caleb Heeringa
New: Sept. 25, 2:46 p.m.
Eastside Fire and Rescue is again considering charging drivers – or their insurance companies – for the costs of responding to car accidents.
The agency’s board briefly considered the motion at a Sept. 13 meeting as part of its ongoing discussions on its 2013 budget.
EFR Chief Lee Soptich said board members are split on the idea, though Sammamish Mayor Tom Odell, one of the city’s two representatives on the board, said he was considering it.
Odell said the agency needs additional revenue sources other than the general funds of cities and fire districts that make up EFR. Odell, a former Boeing executive, compared the fee to his former industry.
“It used to be that you got your bag checked for free when you bought an airplane ticket,” he said. “Now when you check your bag you have to pay a bit more and when you’re buying a meal you get your credit card out … It’s not like it used to be.”
The board has yet to determine how it would calculate the fee, but staff estimates that the agency could raise between $144,000 and $289,000 by charging for the approximately 470 car accident responses it has every year.
That would represent an increase between 0.6 percent and 1.3 percent in the agency’s annual revenues.
The proposal is similar to one passed last year that allowed the agency to charge patients for ambulance rides to the hospital, similar to the way private ambulance services work.
At the meeting the board approved charging $670 for each ride in 2013, up from $650 this year, to keep pace with the price being charged by private providers.
The agency sends out a bill for every ride, generally to a patient’s insurance company.
But EFR writes off the bills of the uninsured and those that cannot pay rather than sending the bills to a collections agency.
Odell said the motor vehicle accident program would likely work the same way.
The board tabled the proposal until its Oct. 11 meeting.
A draft budget presented to the Eastside Fire & Rescue Board of Directors at their Sept. 13 meeting calls for Sammamish to pay 3.3 percent more for fire service in 2013, roughly on par with the increase it saw last year. Issaquah would pay 7.9 percent more, a chunk of that is the result of the new fire station voters approved.
North Bend’s increase is set for 3.5 percent, District 10, 1.3 percent and District 38, 2.5 percent.
The increase stems from increased personnel and health care costs as well as the costs of training additional volunteers.
The agency has been recruiting additional volunteer firefighters for several stations after a state insurance rating board threatened to downgrade the agency’s rating because it did not have enough volunteers on hand.
Firefighters will earn 2 percent more next year while non-represented employees like the fire chief and deputy chiefs will earn a 2.7 percent increase to mirror the cost of living increase in the area since last year.
Operating expenses are projected to rise by 3.1 percent overall.
The board will see updated numbers and consider changes to the budget at its Oct. 11 meeting. The final budget is set to be adopted by the end of the year.