Council votes to defer aid-car fee indefinitely

The City Council on Monday night voted to defer a planned Basic Life Support Transport fee indefinitely.

Presently, all transports to a hospital are free, but the council last year voted to institute the fee, scheduled to begin Sept. 1, as a way to help balance the city's budget.

However, during deliberation on what Council Member Rich Zwicker described as a "tough swallow," the council indicated the city should review the fee prior to the effective date to determine if it was still necessary or if the revenue target was still valid.

As the city looked into the budget this summer, they estimated the line item would bring in much less money than originally anticipated.

On top of that, with revenues up and expenditures down this year, the administration recommended dropping the fee, as it was no longer needed to help balance the budget.

According to spokesperson Preeti Shridhar, the city expected the fee to bring in approximately $350,000, but an analysis showed it would actually come in "significantly less," at about $100,000 to $150,000.

Looking at the numbers, Shridhar said "it didn't make sense" to not postpone the fee.

Fire Chief Mark Peterson said the aid car fee was an attempt to fill revenue shortfalls and help make up part of a $5 million hole in the budget. Peterson also said Renton was following in the footsteps of several of its neighbors, such as Bellevue, Mercer Island and Maple Valley, all of whom charge for aid car.

In Renton, the cost for an aid car transport would have been $600 plus $14 per mile. The fee would have been charged to insurance companies and no one would have been denied transport for lack of funding.

Renton presently has one aid car. It is staffed by a two-man crew and is used to get to incidents, especially basic life support calls, quicker than an ambulance can.

In his memo to the council, Mayor Denis Law said the revenue projection had to be revised as it would be "substantially less" than projected and recommended the effective date be deferred.

Peterson said on top of that, the fire department would prefer the aid car service to remain free.

"Ultimately we made our recommendation to the mayor," he said.

The council on Monday voted unanimously to defer the fee indefinitely.

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