Mayor, chief push for EMS fee in Calif.
Meeting told city needed to pull in revenue for its emergency services
By John F. Hill
The Press Enterprise
MURRIETA, Calif. — During a town hall meeting Thursday at a large retirement community in Murrieta, Mayor Douglas McAllister asked the audience how many of them had called 911 and had firefighters show up to their homes.
Most of the 100 or so in attendance put their hands up.
The topic — the city's proposal to begin charging for emergency medical calls — was of keen interest to residents of at The Colony, a 55-and-older, gated community of hundreds of homes built around a golf course.
Fire Chief Matt Shobert has proposed charging $350 per response. Under the plan, residents and businesses could elect instead to pay a "subscription fee" of $48 per year to cover all calls at a property.
Shobert told the audience that the city needed to pull in revenue for its emergency services, which include having at least one firefighter trained as a paramedic on each engine.
"In one of the fastest growing cities in the country in a booming economy, it wasn't a problem," Shobert said.
But the Fire Department's budget has been strained by the housing market crash and subsequent drop in property taxes, he said.
The fee, which still needs City Council approval, would bring in an estimated $400,000 to $700,000.
Shobert, McAllister and Councilman Alan Long, who works as a firefighter and paramedic in Anaheim, fielded some skeptical questions about the plan.
One woman asked what was stopping the fee from doubling next year. McAllister said he wouldn't vote for that. A man wondered if he would get any additional services for his money. The officials said he wouldn't.
They fielded the questions, but then quickly pivoted the topic to one city officials have targeted for months: Riverside County's ambulance contract.
Colorado-based American Medical Response, which has operated in the county for about 30 years, holds the contract, which is worth an estimated $95 million and has never been competitively bid. It is now up for a three-year renewal.
McAllister said the fee wouldn't be necessary if the county would open the contract to the bidding process. Then, cities could insist on improvements to the emergency system and not be forced to send a fire engine to every medical call.
Colony resident Tom Wright said Murrieta should sue the county over the contract.
McAllister said he couldn't speak directly about a potential lawsuit, but said "everything is on the table. I'm very sympathetic to your position, let's put it that way."
The officials urged the crowd to travel to Riverside on April 10, when county supervisors are scheduled to vote on the contract.
Joyce Lerindegui, a 72-year-old nurse, said she wanted to get a bus to take Colony residents to the meeting.