BROOKSVILLE — County Commissioners this week balked at raising ambulance fees until they could get more information on fee collections and other financial aspects of emergency medical services.
Hernando County Fire Rescue Chief Michael Nickerson had proposed raising fees across the board for the various levels of services provided when an ambulance is called to an emergency.
The proposal would have increased the cost of basic life support from $300 to $355, and advanced life support from the current $430-$450 to $575, depending on the level of care given.
Nickerson said the fees had not been increased for 10 years. His department wanted to take full advantage of what insurance, Medicare and Medicaid would reimburse for service, keep the costs competitive and reach a balance of expenses paid for by taxes vs. those paid for by user fees.
At Tuesday's meeting, Commissioner Dave Russell expressed his concern that the fees proposed seemed to be based on comparisons rather than real costs.
Nickerson said it was important to base the fees on what is considered the reasonable and customary rate. He pointed out the proposal included fees that were lower in many cases than what is charged by surrounding counties and departments.
He noted that Spring Hill Fire Rescue is also considering adopting the same levels of fees. Uniform ambulance fees were recommended by the recent fire study.
Commissioner Jeff Stabins asked how much of the fee is actually collected by the department, and Nickerson said about 75 percent. Stabins asked whether the county could place liens on those who don't pay. That would be a County Commission decision, Nickerson said.
He agreed to bring more information to the board on that issue.
Nobleton resident Anna Liisa Covell reminded commissioners that while they had enacted the largest property tax reduction in history last year, there was also an increase in the fire fee for residents in Hernando County Fire Rescue's district. "People can't afford this,'' she said.
Commissioner Diane Rowden pointed out that the increase in fuel costs alone justifies increasing the fees. Nickerson noted that the standard ambulance gets just 6.5 miles to the gallon.
Russell said that with Spring Hill looking at the same fees and the Brooksville Fire Department considering the same fee for vehicle accident extrication and stabilization, "that has put a burden on our shoulders.''
He asked for a public hearing and additional information to be brought forward. The other commissioners agreed. The topic will come up again at 10 a.m. May 20.
In other business:
• Commissioners agreed to consider using part of their library site on Spring Hill Drive at Melville Avenue for a new fire station. While library officials have balked at the idea, Spring Hill Chief Michael Rampino said a new station is needed in that area.
• The board agreed with County Administrator David Hamilton's plan to conduct six community meetings in May to focus on where residents want to see budget cuts. The first meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. May 6 at the Lorenzo Hamilton Community Center in Brooksville.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.