City lowers EMS fees for residents

Murrieta residents Gloria and Sean Fennell hand an EMS fee to Murrieta Fire Department Station No. 1 administration office specialist Kay Riscol. The EMS fee for Murrieta residents has been reduced to $24 per household. Shane Gibson photo
Murrieta residents Gloria and Sean Fennell hand an EMS fee to Murrieta Fire Department Station No. 1 administration office specialist Kay Riscol (right). The EMS fee for Murrieta residents has been reduced to $24 per household. Shane Gibson photo

Murrieta City Council has approved an amendment to the agreement with Fire Recovery USA to decrease the amount of the emergency medical fees from $48 down to $24. The agreement between the city and Fire Recovery USA has been in place since November 2012.

The city began collecting on the program in January 2013 when it became apparent that, despite cuts to the department’s administration, declining tax rolls would not be enough to sustain the department. Without the program, the city would have been forced to close one of its five fire stations. The goal of the program is to maintain the department’s current level of service in the community.

“The Murrieta Fire Department is a fire district, and we are a subsidiary of the city of Murrieta,” Diana Lozano, a management analyst with Murrieta Fire Department, said. “We receive a proportionate share of taxes but only toward fire suppression. None of it was ever allocated toward EMS.”

Intending for it to be an interim solution until property tax revenues returned to the same levels as fiscal year 2008- 2009, the city instituted the EMS Subscription program and EMS Response fee to fund the department because of an increasing number of medical calls for service and declining tax rolls.

“Although we were never getting revenue for EMS, we were just making it work based on revenue from other programs and just balancing our budget,” Lozano said. “But when you are a 100 percent revenue department, we are not an enterprise department like a water district, you have to depend on the revenues you get each year and that is hard to do with fire service. We implemented because of the severe decline in tax revenue, the EMS Subscription program was a way to maintain the quality of service that our firefighter paramedics were providing to the community.”

Other communities in California and throughout the nation had implemented similar programs with many successes and the same fee structure as Murrieta, $48 per calendar year for most households and $24 for those individuals at the age of 65 and older under Medicare. The $24 per calendar year also applied to families under Medicaid and or experiencing income hardship earning less than $24,000 per year.

Thanks to a boost in the economy, and increasing home values, the city of Murrieta reached those levels Jan. 1 prompting them to decrease the program fees by 50 percent. Under the council’s recent action, the cost for the EMS Subscription program is now down to $24 per household. Medicare and low income households will now pay $12 per year. Those who don’t subscribe to the program will be charged at the rate of $175 per medical call.

Once property tax revenues exceed fiscal year 2008- 2009 levels by 15 percent, the program will be terminated.

Currently there are about 16,000 residential household and commercial businesses subscribers to the program, which is likely in its last year, according to the city council agenda item report.

For more information on Murrieta Fire Department’s EMS Subscription program, visit the city of Murrieta website at www.murrietaca.gov and click on city services.

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