BROOKSVILLE — Ambulance rides will soon cost more after a divided Hernando County Commission on Tuesday approved raising transport fees for Fire Rescue.
Seeking to lessen the financial impact on residents, commissioners questioned whether the increase, the first in 10 years, could be tied to a promise to offset the higher cost by reducing the property tax rate dedicated to fire and rescue operations.
Noting that only 75 percent of the fees charged are ever collected from patients, the commission also discussed ways to boost that amount, such as placing a lien on the property of those who don't pay their ambulance bill.
Commissioner Dave Russell suggested a lien that could be paid back when the property owner's home is sold. "Something's better than nothing,'' he said.
Hernando County Fire Rescue Chief Mike Nickerson said he did not support the idea of liens because someone who needs an ambulance might be reluctant to call. He also noted that 14 percent of those who don't pay their bills live outside Florida and it would cost the county more to go after the unpaid bills than the county would get in return.
Commissioner Diane Rowden also opposed liens. "This is a service, not a bottom line,'' she said. "It's about lives that are saved."
Nickerson said the cost of running the ambulance service has risen steadily over the last 10 years. He also showed how much property tax reductions have impacted Fire Rescue already, with more cuts likely to come.
Under the new fee structure, basic life support transport would go from $300 to $355. Advanced life support transport, now at $430, would be divided into two tiers of service, depending on the severity of the person's condition, and those costs would be $450 or $575.
The cost for vehicle accident extrication and stabilization would rise from $100 to $150. On-scene care without transport would rise from $50 to $75, and the mileage charge would increase from $7 to $9 per mile.
The fees will go into effect June 1 and are expected to generate an additional $138,000 annually.
Russell said he could not support the fee hike unless it was tied to a promise to reduce the tax rate. He and Commissioner Rose Rocco voted against the increase.
Rowden and Commissioners Jeff Stabins and Chris Kingsley voted for the new fees with the caveat that during this summer's budget review they will discuss the other costs of the service and the lien idea.
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