Kirkland City Council considers user fees to help fund emergency services
By MATT PHELPS
Kirkland Reporter Regional Assistant Editor
August 12, 2010 · 3:08 PM
Everyone expects that when they call 911 for a fire or medical emergency that help will arrive within minutes.
But the increasing cost for emergency services and service-time goals have led the Kirkland City Council to find alternate revenue sources.
The council is considering charging users for 911 emergency services to be billed directly to medical insurance companies, according to a report prepared by city staff and an independent third-party study by Management Partners Inc.
Medical insurance companies cover medical transport cost as a part of premiums, so those with insurance would not pay out-of-pocket for the service. The City of Kirkland does not currently charge users for emergency transport and pays for the service out of the general fund.
The report also states that the city should write off calls where the subject has no medical insurance so that cost is not a deterrent to those in need of emergency help, despite that it would lower revenues.
“The intent of this revenue is to capture payments to medical insurance companies rather than raising taxes,” Kirkland Fire Chief Kevin Nalder told the council during its Aug. 4 meeting.
The study used six peer cities comparable to Kirkland, some that implemented the user fee and some that did not.
“Management Partners assessed that we would have a net revenue of about $1 million,” said Nalder, who added the estimate was a very conservative figure and includes the write-offs of calls where subjects do not have insurance.
The study does not include areas outside Fire District 41, for which the city did not have data. Those areas reside in the annexation area and will add an estimated 700 calls per year for service to the Kirkland Fire Department starting next June. Those calls would generate additional revenue.
“I support it,” said Councilmember Bob Sternoff. “It also brings up the fact that with ‘Obama care’ everyone will be required to carry insurance and that makes the plan even better.”
One of the council’s biggest concerns over the years has been improving response times for emergency services.
“If we were not to collect these user fees there will be a large impact on the current general fund in order to accomplish either of these goals,” said Nalder in a memorandum to City Manager Kurt Triplett.
“I have sat here for 10 years and we have yet to achieve our response-time goals,” said Councilmember Dave Asher. “We have done some things that were expensive. We have done some things that were innovative and we have done some things around the margins and we still have not achieved our response-time goals. I am interested in buying response time and that is what we need to do.”
But the fee implementation would not alleviate the need for general fund money and would not cure all the financial problems.
“We are looking at possibly needing to still infuse $200,000 from our general fund just to maintain our current level of service,” said Nalder. “We will never be able to fully subsidize through this fee our cost to provide this service to the community, but it will help us maintain or improve the current level of service that we have.”
The fire department has also applied for a grant, along with the City of Redmond, to subsidize the purchase of tablet PC’s to capture patient information. This technology reduces some of the workload identified by the fire crews, especially if agreements can be made with the hospitals to enter that information in the electronic document that the fire crews provide to them upon delivery of the patient to the hospital.
“Often patients are unable to answer those questions due to their medical condition and the fire crews would have to wait for a family member to provide the billing information,” said Nalder in the memorandum.
Public safety building purchase update
During the meeting, the Kirkland City Council was updated on the purchase of the “My Home Wholesale” building to be used as the new public safety building. The council also authorized a resolution with a 7-0 vote to finance up to $12 million for the purchase from an Interfund Loan.
A property appraisal by CJM Property Advisors put the value of the building and property, located at 11831 120th Avenue N.E. behind the Kirkland Fred Meyer, at $10.6 million.
The building, which was constructed during the mid 1980s, underwent a Phase 1 environmental assessment.
“Overall there were no significant issues,” said Interim Public Works Director Ray Steiger. “It is a fairly new building.”
The only issue with the building are some underground storage tanks. After a review, it was determined that the building originally had underground storage tanks, but it was unclear if the tanks still remain. Steiger said that the seller would drop the sale price to cover the cost of getting the problem fixed.
The city is still looking at the feasibility of constructing a second floor in the two-story, open-air 103,000-square-foot building.Contact Kirkland Reporter Regional Assistant Editor Matt Phelps at email@example.com or 425-822-9166 ext. 5052.