Taxpayers should question holdup in ambulance fee -- Gazette.Net


Taxpayers should question holdup in ambulance fee

County Executive Isiah Leggett’s multiyear effort to impose an ambulance fee finally succeeded last August, when his proposal had cleared the County Council, and volunteer firefighters announced they would drop their petition drive against the charge.

The fee took effect Jan. 1, but last week, The Gazette’s Kate Alexander learned the county was stymied because necessary paperwork still needed to be shuffled between Rockville and Washington. The community should be disappointed.

The fee has been controversial ever since former County Executive Doug Duncan proposed it years ago. Opponents had feared individuals, in an attempt to avoid the fee, could put their lives at risk by neglecting to call 911 in emergencies. And the volunteers objected because their fundraising could take a hit. Why should anyone donate to an ambulance company when they’ll be charged for the services?

Studies from nearby counties have found ambulance fees do not prevent individuals from calling 911. And Leggett struck a deal with the volunteers promising them 15 percent of the county’s ambulance fee collections.

The delay can be blamed on the feds, county spokesman Patrick Lacefield said. Regulators put a dozen new requirements on programs — not just Montgomery’s but every ambulance fee program. The requirements caused a backlog, which is holding up the county’s implementation of the fee.

Lacefield is confident the fee will be in place by the end of March. That means one full quarter of 2013 will pass, though he said the county will be able to seek charges dating back to Jan. 1.

County residents have a right to be less sanguine, if only because the federal budget sequestration could create further hurdles. Even if the county trots through this part of the fee’s regulatory maze, taxpayers have a right to question how well the county was prepared to implement the fee. It’s hard to believe that after all these debates, paperwork is the holdup.