- The Washington Times - Monday, May 24, 2004

Fairfax County residents will have to pay hundreds of dollars for an ambulance ride starting next year after the Board of Supervisors yesterday decided to start charging for the service.

The surcharge will cost residents $300 to $550 per ambulance call starting in April, officials said.

Supervisors approved the fee despite criticism from volunteer firefighters, who said elderly and uninsured residents now might think twice about calling for emergency services.

“I don’t believe this is something that is necessary,” said Shane Murphy, of the Fair Oaks Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company, who told county officials to cap overtime and buy less-expensive firetrucks to cut costs.

However, Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly said residents won’t be denied ambulance service based on their ability to pay. He said private insurance carriers or Medicare or Medicaid will pick up the tab in most cases.

“No one is going to stop you at the door of your ambulance and say I need to see your [credit card],” Mr. Connolly said.

Supervisors said they enacted the surcharge to avoid relying too heavily on property taxes as a revenue source in the county budget. They said the fee could raise more than $6 million annually.

The supervisors also pointed out that Alexandria and Arlington have long charged residents for ambulance rides.

Michael P. Neuhard, chief of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, said Arlington charges $225 per ambulance ride while Alexandria residents pay $200. However, both jurisdictions are considering raising rates, Chief Neuhard said.

“This is not something that is unique to Fairfax County,” Mr. Connolly said of the ambulance fee.

However, volunteer fire departments throughout the county opposed the measure.

“It is neither an ethical nor moral way to raise revenue” in one of the nation’s wealthiest counties, said John S. “Pete” Kirby of the Centreville Volunteer Fire Department.

Mr. Kirby also said that the new fee might discourage residents from donating to local volunteer fire and rescue departments, hurting the volunteers’ fund-raising efforts.

“The impact of this fee could undermine the support from constituents,” Mr. Kirby said.

Mark Servello, representing the Fairfax County Volunteer Fire Commission, said providing free ambulance service is “a basic government responsibility.”

“We want people to get the help they need, but we don’t want money to become the issue,” Mr. Servello said.

Supervisors said they plan to re-evaluate the fee system after one year.

Supervisor Elaine McConnell, Springfield Republican, said she wanted the chance to review the fee system to ensure that no government administrative jobs were created by the measure.

“Is this going to turn into a bureaucracy with 15 to 20 people in the department doing this?” she said.

Supervisors rejected the proposal last year amid concerns that the ambulance fee would make uninsured and elderly residents less likely to call 911, but Chief Neuhard told officials yesterday there was no evidence of that happening in Alexandria or Arlington.

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