Increased ambulance fees "well worth it" |

Increased ambulance fees "well worth it"

Rick Chandler

When Tom Buswell fell off a ladder in his back yard and broke his ankle recently, paramedics were on the scene in about two minutes. Buswell, a Tahoma resident, suffered a compound fracture and dislocation in the fall, and needed to get to the hospital in short order.

Not a problem – an ambulance from the North Tahoe Fire Protection District, based in Homewood, was on the scene in minutes. Of course, it also helped that one of the Buswell’s neighbors, Scott Lynn, is a paramedic with the NTFPD, and happened to be home at the time.

It is this kind of community service that West Shore residents recently voted to keep intact with the passage of Measure F – a special tax election which will serve to extend the West Shore communities’ current ambulance service contract with the NTFPD for two years.

With the approval of Measure F, residents of the West Shore communities of Meeks Bay, Rubicon and Tahoma will have to pony up increased ambulance service rates in the form of parcel fees, averaging out at $76.12 per single family residence annually. That’s an increase of $51.52 per year – significant any way you look at it.

“But it’s well worth it,” said Suzanne Buswell, Tom’s wife. “If that accident had happened in the middle of winter, with Emerald Bay Road closed, I don’t know what we would have done without our local ambulance service.

“And I would have voted to keep (NTFPD) before the accident happened. I had already made up my mind.”

West Shore residents had a bit of a quandary on their hands earlier this year as they wrestled over the question of ambulance service. Their choice was to accept the NTFPD’s higher rates or sign a new primary responder contract with Lake Tahoe Ambulance, which is based in South Lake Tahoe. The NTFPD has under contract with El Dorado County for 15 years.

But the big drawback to an ambulance service in South Shore was response time, especially in the winter months. Should Highway 89 be closed due to snow or other conditions, it is unclear how long a West Shore accident victim would have to wait for emergency service. One possible scenario would involve accident victims being airlifted – a timely and costly proposal.

West Shore residents examined their options and agreed to the special tax election. Measure F passed, barely, last month – receiving 179 yes votes out of 250 votes cast. That total just surpassed the 171 votes, or two-thirds majority, needed for approval. There are approximately 600 registered voters in the area.

“That gives those communities a two-year window to allow citizens groups to explore alternative sources of funding,” said El Dorado County Supervisor Dave Solaro. “One of those options could include additional training for the Meeks Bay Fire Protection District, which might then be consolidated with North Tahoe. There are several options.”

West Shore residents are constantly reminded that their small communities can be a curse as well as a blessing. They live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, but the small tax base means that they also must pay more for some services.

“One of the real problems the community faces is that there are so few parcels to divide the cost into,” said NTFPD Chief Duane Whitelaw. “That’s why the new rate is so high. The North Tahoe Fire board of directors felt that the rate had been behind for a number of years, and needed to be adjusted.”

So a new formula was devised in which parcel owners would share equally in all 911 emergency ambulance calls, instead of the old formula, in which individuals were billed directly for 911 service.

Up until July 1, El Dorado County residents between the Placer County line (near Tahoma) and Eagle Falls Trailhead in Emerald Bay paid $24.60 per residential unit each year.

The NTFPD has its primary station in Tahoe City, with substations in Homewood, Kings Beach, Carnelian Bay and Dollar Hill.

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