Pasco facing downgraded insurance rating, may have to raise ambulance utility fee

Pasco City Council members may have to consider raising the ambulance utility fee in order to maintain current insurance rates for property owners.

Officials are awaiting the results of an assessment done earlier this month of Pasco’s insurance classification grade.

The city is graded as a Class 5 agency. However, the Washington Surveying & Rating Bureau has indicated that Pasco could be downgraded to a Class 6 because the fire department does not have enough engines or staff to properly cover the growing city.

That rating is used by insurers in developing fire insurance rates for all public and private properties within the city, and a drop in the grade could mean a 5 percent to 10 percent increase in premiums.

The rating bureau visited Pasco in early September at the request of city officials so they would have the results — expected in the next few weeks — when going through the 2016 budget process.

The grading system looks at four areas — city water supply, the fire department, fire safety control, and the emergency communications center, or dispatch.

Pasco’s short-term goal has been to keep that Class 5 grade, with the hope of eventually bumping it up to a Class 4. Richland is a Class 3 and Kennewick and West Richland are Class 4, according to Pasco Fire Chief Bob Gear.

If there is a drop in the grade, Pasco will have 30 days to submit an improvement plan to the rating bureau and six months to implement the plan in order to keep the Class 5.

Gear on Monday night also proposed moving the dispatch center for all Pasco Fire Department-related calls to Benton County’s Southeast Communications Center (SECOMM) in Richland. That may cost the city about $150,000 more a year, but it would give Pasco a significant reduction in rating points, he said.

“I think we’re at a point where the council has to make a policy decision whether we move ahead with some of the expenditures and maintain a Class 5, or we let the classification slip,” Gear said.

Council members indicated they are on board with Gear’s decision to notify Franklin County by Oct. 1 that the department’s yearly contract for dispatch services will go month-to-month. That way, if the new regional dispatch system doesn’t happen in the near future, the Pasco Fire Department can go ahead with having all fire and medical emergency calls relayed through Benton County dispatchers.

Gear also discussed the pending acquisition of the Road 48 fire station and how it will drop their rating points. The city can take official possession of the station in three months, but it will take up to six months to hire 12 people and start operations.

Gear and Deputy City Manager Stan Strebel told council members that these proposed costs may need to be absorbed with a higher ambulance service charge on the monthly utility statement for property owners. Otherwise, if the city takes no action, property owners instead will be putting that additional money toward their insurance rates.

“We think that we can present to council a budget that can accommodate the changes that Bob has talked about that will help us preserve the rating ... (and) still be reasonable when measured up against the impact of insurance costs,” Strebel said.

Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer