City to ask County to pay
After more than a decade of giving El Dorado County a deal on ambulance services in Tahoe, the City of South Lake Tahoe appears to have had enough.
Since 2001, the Cal Tahoe Joint Powers Authority has provided three ambulances at the lake’s South Shore — two of them belong to the city, and one is from the Lake Valley Fire Protection District.
However, El Dorado County has only been paying for a total of two ambulances in the basin.
That difference translates into an approximately $13 million subsidy from the JPA, or about $8.5 million from the city, over the course of 13 years, according to South Lake Tahoe Fire Chief Jeff Meston.
“I think both sides collectively agree that we are more than happy and capable to provide service,” Meston said at Tuesday’s city council meeting. “I think that we are the appropriate folks who have done that. But we just can’t continue to subsidize the county of El Dorado.”
Three ambulances are necessary to serve the South Shore, Meston said. Initially the JPA didn’t complain about providing the extra vehicle at no cost to the county, but that has since changed as departments now work with smaller budgets. A different contract between the JPA and county in 2011 hasn’t helped either.
The contract altered the amount of money the JPA received from transporting patients to facilities mostly outside of the basin. The JPA used to get 93 percent of its revenue from those transfers. Now it gets a flat rate.
The current contract ends in 2016, but the JPA has requested the county reopen it before the Power Authority’s reserve funds are completely depleted.
Meston brought this and more to the attention of South Lake Tahoe city council members Tuesday — some of who seemed confused as to why the information was never brought up before.
Now, both the JPA and city are planning to go before county supervisors to plead their case for full funding. Their hope is to get the county to pay its full share of the ambulance service’s costs, just like it does on the west slope.
The county currently funds two-thirds of the costs for ambulance services for the Cal Tahoe JPA, while funding 100 percent of the costs for ambulance services in the rest of the county, Meston said.
A call to the El Dorado County Emergency Medical Services Agency was not immediately returned.
Some of the things the JPA would like the county to pay for are the full cost of staffing, the continuation of an ambulance replacement plan and the replacement of certain medical equipment.
The county is faced with its own financial issues and has been working on reducing a multimillion-dollar general fund shortfall expected in the next fiscal year. But options are still available to fund the ambulance service, according to Meston.
One option is an assessment already in place that charges residents for ambulance care in their respective areas. Another possibility is obtaining funds through an aspect of the Affordable Care Act.
Furthermore, the county has not kept ambulance billing rates up to date, and Meston suggested officials could raise them accordingly.
“I don’t believe it’s necessarily our role to tell the board of supervisors where to find money to fund their system,” he said. “I think it’s pretty obvious in their own documentation that there is a methodology to be able to do it.”
Meston said the county has about $2 million in a fund specifically for the South Shore service area, which local officials would like to use a portion of to pay for emergency service needs. However, the county hasn’t agreed to it.
“We should have our hands on some of that money,” he continued, “and they’ve simply said ‘no.’”
Overall, the predicament has left the JPA with a few options, Meston said. It could continue the status quo and deplete the authority’s reserves or continue to request funding from the county. The city could also discontinue ambulance service.
If the last option is chosen, six filled positions would be eliminated. Paramedic engine services, however, would continue.
For now, city council members have decided to reach out to Sue Novasel, the county supervisor representing the South Shore area, to see if an item on the matter can be placed on the county’s agenda. They did so with a 4-0 vote. Councilwoman JoAnn Conner, who also serves on the Cal Tahoe JPA, abstained.
In other city council business:
– A raise was unanimously approved for the South Lake Tahoe Treasurer, increasing the position’s salary from $452 per month to $946.09 per month. It was the first time the treasurer’s compensation was changed since 1998. David Olivo is the city’s current treasurer.
– The city is moving forward with a proposal for stormwater inspection fees to help pay for the city’s Stormwater Program. Additional public outreach will be conducted before the fees are finalized. Proposed fees are $107 for commercial inspections and $134 for industrial inspections. Re-inspections cost $54 under the proposal. The inspections are to ensure facilities are not discharging waste or pollutants into the storm drain system.
– Council members held a brief discussion on the draft Tahoe Valley Area Plan, which outlines the city’s vision for the “Y” area of South Lake Tahoe, and the associated draft environmental impact report. The public will have a chance to comment on the EIR before the plan is finalized in what staff expects will be April or May.
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