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UPDATED Facing loss of ambulance service, city could consider new tax

Submitted by on 1, April 2, 2009 – 11:02 amNo Comment

img_1125_6Updated 11:48 a.m. Thursday, April 2

Alameda’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, though both Alameda’s fire chief and the head of the county EMS authority said they are eager to avoid that outcome.

Fire Chief David Kapler said Alameda has two choices: lose its ambulance service – or support a tax to pay for it.

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

County EMS Director Michael King said decertification is the “extreme” option for solving the impasse and that he feels he and the city’s representatives, Kapler and Assistant City Manager David Brandt, are close to a solution.

“We feel we have made progress,” King said. “Hopefully sometime soon, we will have a deal in place that benefits the residents of the city and maintains the ambulance service, which we value very highly.”

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 he too is hopeful things won’t come to that. At this point, Alameda is the only city in Alameda County that doesn’t have a signed contract with the authority, he said.

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.

Kapler said that if the city’s ambulance service is decertified, 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 potential 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.

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