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CITY AMBULANCE SERVICE HEADED FOR DECERTIFICATION; EMS TAX COULD HIT BALLOT

Submitted by on 1, April 2, 2009 – 9:56 amNo Comment

img_1125_6Alameda’s ambulance service could be headed for decertification over an unpaid $1.8 million in bills to the county emergency medical services authority, firefighters said today. It’s a move that could spell the end of Alameda’s local ambulance service.

But Fire Chief David Kapler said the city is trying to fix the problem and could put a special emergency medical services tax on the ballot.

The city’s contract with the county EMS authority lapsed in July 2005, and the city and county have been in negotiations ever since to try to sign a new one, Kapler said. Since Alameda has its own ambulance service, a big sticking point has been the fee the city pays the county authority, he said.

Kapler said the city’s view is that it doesn’t owe the county that money because they don’t have a contract. He said the county thinks otherwise.

“The county has said, ‘You need to be a fair player with all the other cities in the county and become a member of the district, or pay your fair share. If you don’t, we’ll decertify you,'” Kapler said, adding that the city and the county authority are trying to work things out. At this point, Alameda is the only city in Alameda County that doesn’t have a signed contract with the authority, he said.

He said the city has two choices: Discontinue its ambulance service or pay for it through a special tax.

Alameda residents voted in 1982 to have their own ambulance service. They also approved a tax to pay for the service, but the city never collected it, Kapler said.

Kapler said the city’s ambulance service costs $4 million, and the city collects $2 million back in fees. So the city could seek a tax to cover the rest.

He said it’ll be up to the city council to decide whether to ask for such a tax.

“We are waiting for further direction from the city council or management on whether (there will be a tax) on the ballot,” Kapler said.

If the city and county don’t come to an agreement, the county could decertify our ambulance service by the end of this calendar year. Kapler said that if that happens, Alameda residents would likely get service from the county’s private contract provider, AMR. He said he’s not sure if they would be on the Island or elsewhere.

A spokesperson for the firefighters said the loss of the city’s ambulance service could mean staffing cuts at the fire department – and slower response times on medical and fire calls.

“We won’t have the response times we’ve had. The service level will decrease,” Jeffrey DelBono, spokesman for the Alameda firefighters union, said of the proposed decertification. “This is a service that the citizens wanted.”

If the ambulance service is decertified, DelBono said 18 firefighters could lose their jobs. And the city could lose the $2 million a year it collects in ambulance fees.

The firefighters are collecting signatures for a ballot measure that would require the city to staff the department at a minimum of 27 firefighters per shift. The city sued the firefighters’ union and the three residents who signed on to the proposed ballot measure last week, in an effort to keep the measure off the ballot.

“Obviously, this is one of the reasons the citizens need to vote for our measure,” DelBono said.

Alameda is one of four cities in the county that provides its own ambulance transport. Albany, Berkeley and Piedmont are the other three.

The authority provides licensing and oversight of ambulance service and also provides funding for the county’s trauma centers and some additional programs. Every city in the county is a member. A representative for the authority has not yet returned a call seeking comment.

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