The fee is expected to generate $7.6 million in fiscal 2013 -- when it will be effective for half the fiscal year -- and $16 million to $18 million annually between fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2018. The money would go into a dedicated fund for the Fire and Rescue Service.
"We've had to reduce units the last couple budget cycles, and we'll be able to increase our response capacity, our staffing, other equipment needs, as well as training with respect to this revenue," said Fire Chief Richard Bowers.
The three council members who voted against the bill -- Council President Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda, Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville, and George Leventhal, D-at large -- said they did so because residents voted against the fee in the 2010 referendum. Of the 275,454 voters who weighed in on the question, 54 percent voted to repeal the bill, the only time a county law has been repealed by ballot.
"If voters can't trust their elected officials to uphold their vote, why would they trust their elected officials on other issues as well?" Andrews asked. "This is an issue of trust and respect for voters."
The bill creates the risk that residents will be afraid to call an ambulance, which costs $300 to $800, when they need one, said Eric Bernard, executive director of the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire Rescue Association. He said the volunteer firefighters would meet to discuss a petition drive for the November ballot.
While the measure authorizes the county to charge insurance companies and stipulates that county residents would not have to pay out of pocket -- as the 2010 bill did -- several opponents said the bill does not protect non-county residents from fees. Councilman Marc Elrich, D-at large, who voted for the bill, said he is working with the volunteer firefighters to come up with a way to change that.
Officials said they expect the bill to be challenged again on the November ballot.
Last time around, County Executive Ike Leggett's administration spent more than $13,000 campaigning for the bill, according to data from Leggett spokesman Patrick Lacefield.