Ambulance service in the Tri-Cities is going to cost a bit more this year.
City councils in Kennewick, Pasco and Richland are poised to increase the monthly ambulance utility taxes and raise the charges for taking emergency rides to hospitals.
Each city recently completed its ambulance costs survey, which shows that raising fees is the only way to keep the expenses from running deeper into the red.
If the city councils agree, all three cities will charge equally for ambulance rides -- $660 per trip for city residents and $990 for nonresidents.
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Richland's Grant Baynes, fire chief and director of emergency services, told the council this past week that raising the monthly fee by 73 percent to $5.49 per month would help hold down the transportation charges, which still need to go up $52 to $660.
Richland's ambulance program operates with $550,000 from the general fund and about $1 million recovered in transportation costs. The monthly fees add $850,000 annually.
The rate study showed Richland had about 4,000 calls for medical assistance last year with 3,600 of those resulting in ambulance rides, Baynes said.
Costs for staffing and fuel have gone up in recent years too, which forced the ambulance program into deficit spending, Baynes said.
Since 2007, Pasco has more than doubled its general fund subsidy for ambulance service, going from $420,000 to $890,000, Baynes said.
Kennewick faces a similar dilemma. It infused $481,000 into the ambulance program in 2007 and faces a $900,000 drain on the general fund this year, Baynes said.
Today, the Pasco City Council will review ambulance funding at its workshop.
Dunyele Mason, Pasco's finance manager, is scheduled to propose an ordinance that would see the monthly utility charge per household go from $3.60 to $5.85 on May 1, with another bump to $6.25 on Jan. 1. And a $9 per mile charge for transport would become $10 on May 1, if adopted by the council.
Mason's report to the council proposes that the increases would help roll back the annual general fund contribution of $890,000 to $420,000 and replenish ambulance fund reserves to a minimal level.
On Tuesday, the Kennewick City Council will hear a similar message at its workshop.
Finance director Dan Legard is expected to recommend the council approve increasing the transport charge to $660 with a $10 per mile additional charge. He also will ask for a $5.50 monthly ambulance fee per household.
The recommendation reflects a 70 percent increase on the monthly fee and a 14 percent increase in the transport cost. The mileage cost would hold steady.
In all three cities, anyone who does not live in the city would be charged $900 for an ambulance ride under the proposed programs that await approval from the respective council.
Kennewick plans to notify all utility ratepayers about the ambulance fee public hearing scheduled for June 5. If the council adopts the proposal, Kennewick's new fees would take effect July 1.
Legard noted in his report for the council that 2011 resulted in $2.8 million in net ambulance services revenue, with costs of about $3.8 million. A general fund contribution of $850,000 made up most of the deficit, leaving the fund about $145,000 in the red.
Richland council member Terry Christensen asked Baynes how long the ambulance services program would be solvent if the charges were increased as requested.
"We'll be out of the hole and building reserves," Baynes said.
Dan Underwood, Richland's finance officer, said the rate increases should work for at least two years.
"We should be in good shape and not need to raise them," he said.