The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

March 5, 2014

Mayor proposes EMS response fee

Money would assist in tackling budget shortfall

The Commercial-News

---- — DANVILLE – In place of a fire safety fee placed on garbage and sewer bills to help pay for fire department operating costs, Mayor Scott Eisenhauer now proposes an emergency medical services response fee for dispatch of the fire division for a medical call.

Aldermen at Tuesday night’s city council meeting started discussions on a third draft of the city’s proposed 2014-2015 budget. A roomful of firefighters and their supporters listened to the budget discussions.

Also proposed in the budget is an early retirement savings program that would save the city about $240,000.

Ward 4 Alderman Mike O’Kane also asked the administration to look at charging for responding to house fires and accidents. O’Kane said people can have insurance coverage to help reimburse the city for these responses, too.

The EMS Response Fee is user based, rather than a tax imposed on each structure throughout the city, and would assist the city in tackling an estimated $800,000 budget shortfall.

Based on 1,200 dispatches the Fire Division responded to in 2013, multiplied by a minimum $300 response fee — $150 for the vehicle and $50 each for responding personnel for one-hour response — at a collection rate of 70 percent, the EMS Response Fee would generate $252,000.

A billing process would be initiated by a Fire Division report and vouchered by the city’s finance division.

In an effort to reimburse some costs associated with providing basic response to emergencies, city council members already passed an ordinance implementing a response fee for providing services to individuals who don’t live in Danville. The ordinance generated 14 vouchers during a three-year period and added less than $10,000 in revenue, according to Eisenhauer.

“With the amount of public testimony indicating the need for our Fire Division to respond to medical emergencies providing a quicker response, and the concern that the private entity licensed to provide EMS response within the city limits cannot do so in the same expeditious manner, it would seem reasonable that the value-added service would be worth payment of a response fee,” Eisenhauer stated in his budget notes to aldermen.

He is asking aldermen to reconsider the extension of an EMS Response Fee for any dispatch of the Fire Division to aid in any medical call in the corporate city limits. For each medical call, at least one fire truck and three personnel are dispatched to the scene.

Eisenhauer said this response places additional wear and tear on the firefighting apparatus and incurs expenses through the use of basic EMS supplies, neither of which the city receives reimbursement.

Eisenhauer said the expansion of the EMS response fee ordinance to include patients with a residence in the city would help offset expenses within the Fire Division, allow the city to seek reimbursement for costs associated with EMS response and review the list of dispatched calls to determine if other responses should be reinstated for automatic dispatch.

Eisenhauer said the implementation of the fee, however, “does not relieve us of our fiduciary responsibility to analyze the long-term sustainability of the Fire Division.”

“If the expansion of the response fee continues to generate sufficient revenue then perhaps no other remedies are required ..,” Eisenhauer said.

But he adds city officials still need to thoroughly analyze the feasibility of reducing personnel and optimizing the location of fire facilities.

Two legislative bills also are expediting this study: one would allow an arbitrator to decide all manning and staffing issues within a fire division and the other would prohibit the closing of any fire station without a binding referendum, according to Eisenhauer.

Passage and Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature on the bills would reduce or eliminate local government control for long-term decisions, Eisenhauer said.

Eisenhauer presented the new budget draft Tuesday night that includes the alternative revenue source in addition to budget cuts: in travel and training; $10,000 reduction to Downtown Danville, Inc. (down from $20,000 last year); $38,000 reduction in animal control and gasoline for animal control (based on projected contract with Vermilion County and a $25,000 expense is shifted to environmental code enforcement for the collection of road kill); reduction in advertising and gasoline expenses; decrease in electricity (by reducing lights in over-illuminated areas in the city); elimination of training, travel and clothing for new hires, and elimination of one civilian position in the fire division; and seek sponsorships/donations to offset costs of the Danville Municipal Band and also horticulture supplies.

Eisenhauer said some of the proposed expenditure reductions must be agreed to by the employee unions.

Eisenhauer said while it’s impossible to know who would take the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund Early Retirement Incentive, 30 employees are eligible.

There is one vacancy in the fire division, and city officials will advocate during union contract negotiations not to replace that position or any other positions which may become vacant during the fiscal year in the Fire Division, according to Eisenhauer.

The clerical position in the fire division is slated for elimination. But Eisenhauer said the employee will not lose her job. She will be moved to another opening.

“We will also review every position which may become vacated during the fiscal year as to whether or not it should be replaced. Even in situations where positions will be replaced, many of them would be replaced with lower wages,” Eisenhauer stated.

Budget discussions will continue next week, with final action on the budget expected April 1.