Leggett seeks to revive controversial ambulance fee

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Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett intends to revive a bill that would raise millions of dollars by charging an ambulance fee, a measure that voters rejected when it was put on the ballot in November 2010.

The legislation, which Leggett sent County Council President Roger Berliner on Thursday, is identical to the bill introduced in 2008. It would authorize the county Fire and Rescue Service to levy a fee -- usually $300 to $800 -- to recover the costs incurred when someone is transported via ambulance, including the costs of staff and equipment.

Residents would not pay the fee, Leggett said. Rather, the bill would allow the county to seek reimbursement from insurance companies.

It has the potential to raise about $14 million to $17 million, according to Leggett, though there is an approximately $2 million administrative fee associated with the bill, reducing the net revenue, according to Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville, one of the original bill's most vocal opponents.

"It's a benign source of revenue," said Councilman George Leventhal, D-at large, who voted for the 2008 bill and plans to support it again. "It will be absorbed through people's insurance premiums, and those who don't have insurance won't be charged."

But people who don't live in Montgomery County-- like the roughly 200,000 people who travel from other jurisdictions to work in the county or family members who visit residents -- would be charged the fee, Andrews said.

"It's dangerous policy to discriminate between residents and nonresidents with regard to emergency services," he said. "I do not think the council will pass this."

Voters rejected the measure nearly two years ago because it was "double taxation," as taxpayers already pay for the Fire and Rescue Service's budget, said Montgomery County Taxpayers League President Joan Fidler, who said she was shocked that Leggett would try introducing the same bill again.

The measure failed by a 54-46 margin in November 2010. In early 2011, Leggett said he would not attempt to revive the fee because "the voters have spoken."

But on Thursday, Leggett said the circumstances have changed, pointing to teacher pensions and other outlays shifted to the county by the state that could cost $45 million in the coming fiscal year.

If it's passed by the council, voters would still have a chance to sign petitions to have the measure put on the ballot as a referendum question.

Without the ambulance fee, the county will be forced to make severe cuts or raise taxes beyond what was proposed last month, Leggett said.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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Rachel Baye

Staff Writer - Education
The Washington Examiner