City of Hoquiam doubling monthly ambulance fee on Jan. 1

The city of Hoquiam held a public hearing Monday night at the city council meeting that shed light on its need to double its ambulance availability fee as the calendar changes to 2024.

The monthly fee, as of Jan. 1, will increase from $19 to $39 per month. The fee will increase to $41 per-month as of Jan. 1, 2025. It will increase to $43 per-month as of Jan. 1, 2026, according to the ordinance.

Hoquiam Fire Chief Matt Miller explained why the increase is needed.

“This increase is vital to the operations of the ambulance service in the city of Hoquiam,” Miller said. “Unfortunately costs have increased in all aspects of providing service. With Ground Emergency Management Transport (GEMT) reimbursements reducing, as well as potentially stopping altogether, we have had to rely on using reserves. This is not sustainable for the future.”

The fee will be the same for the following: single family, multi-family, commercial and retail, industrial, assisted living and nursing homes, senior housing, housing authority, other governmental entities and the city of Hoquiam.

Corri Schmid, finance director for the city of Hoquiam, explained the reasons for the increase to several members of the public who attended the meeting.

“The city is asking for the ambulance availability fee to increase from $19.23 to $38.64 per-month,” Schmid said. “This is backed by an ambulance availability fee study that we had done.”

Schmid gave some background of the ambulance fund.

“When I first started, the budget for the ambulance fund was supplemented by … loans from the general fund, so it was not a self-sustaining fund,” Schmid said. “And then in 2019, GEMT funds became available and that is really what helped the ambulance fund stay afloat.”

Schmid pointed to the statistics through the years.

“If you look, in 2019, the city received $903,522 in GEMT funds,” Schmid said. “We had been told that these funds will be gone within the next two to three years. And as you can tell, in 2023 thus far, we have received $430,791. So, it has significantly decreased.”

The difference between $903,522 and $430,791 — $472,731 — is a 52% decrease in funds.

Then Schmid spoke about the expenses, which is another part of the thinking behind increasing the fee.

“If you look at the expenses for just basic ambulance operation, in 2017, which is also the last time we increased the ambulance availability fee, the operational budget was $3,331,580 and now (in 2023) it’s $5,341,152.”

The price of purchasing an ambulance has increased too, according to Schmid. In 2017, the ambulance the city purchased cost $175,507. In 2023, an ambulance costs $271,548. That’s an increase of $96,041 — a 55% increase.

“Costs are increasing and we cannot sustain the way that we are currently,” Schmid said. “In the 2023-24 budget, we are using reserves. Thus far, we’re at $187,139. We’re projected to use $517,000 of reserves.”

Schmid said the city wanted to give the public a “quick viewpoint” as to what the ambulance fund looks like and why the increases are necessary.

“I know that we don’t like to increase fees, so this is a hard one,” Schmid said. “That is all I have. This is not increasing staff, this is keeping the department status quo.”

Miller wants to continue providing HFD’s “excellent service,” and how the increase will allow the department to do so. He’s grateful for the city council’s “difficult decision.”

“We never like to increase fees and put a burden on our citizens, but this will help maintain quality EMS care for our public,” Miller said.

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