Richland Council Approves First Reading of Ambulance Utility Tax - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Richland Council Approves First Reading of Ambulance Utility Tax

       RICHLAND, WA -- Richland city leaders are one step away from reducing ambulance fees with a new utility tax.      This fee would replace the utility that was discontinued in 2004 when it was declared unconstitutional. Tuesday night city council members approved the first reading of the utility tax as it stands. The proposed $3.08 fee on utility bills would reduce the current ambulance ride cost from $950 to about $600. Patients would be required to pay their co-pay, something the city used to pay before the ambulance utility was declared unconstitutional.   "This is a fee imposed on the people by the council but it's totally to the benefit of the citizens of Richland.  When you take a $950 bill we have to charge now without the utility, measure that up against a social security check, which a lot of our folks only have, it takes a pretty good bite out of that, so everybody kind of pays into it like a slush fund or like a credit union and then the citizens receive a benefit from it when they need it," said Bob Peterson from the Richland Fire Department.   Through changes by state lawmakers, the city can now impose the utility fee again. "I'm against putting a utility tax on that.  It seems to me just a recycle of money into the general fund that you can just simplify matters by saying okay, we're going to put 'x' dollars into this from the general fund and not try to recycle things back in," said Richland City Councilman John Fox. City staff told Fox the ambulance utility has to operate like all the city's utilities, that's why they included the nominal fee for residents.  Staff said doing things this way will protect the city incase the utility tax is tested in court. This is the only utility that's supported by the general fund.  Council members will discuss the issue a second time and probably pass it sometime in August.  If it's approved, the utility increase will likely take effect in September.