Montgomery Council torn between Leggett, volunteer firefighters on ambulance fee

Local,Kathleen Miller
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett is pushing council members to revive a minimum $300 ambulance fee tabled weeks ago, even as the head of the county’s volunteer firefighters threatens dire political consequences for those who endorse it.

Last spring, Leggett recommended charging fees ranging from $300 to $800 per ambulance trip, plus $7.50 per mile traveled.

He maintains the bills for transporting residents would go directly to insurance companies and no person who lives in Montgomery County would ever be charged for service. People who live outside the jurisdiction, however, would be billed for ambulance use.

Most local jurisdictions — including Fairfax County, the District and Prince George’s County — have already implemented a fee, and Leggett has argued the county is passing up $12 million to $14 million a year in revenue by not creating a fee of its own.

Council Vice President Phil Andrews has led opposition to the surcharge among the council members, saying it would undoubtedly discourage some residents from calling for help.

Andrews said in late October that he had the five votes necessary to kill the measure, and the public safety committee, which Andrews chairs, tabled the bill.

Leggett and his aides, however, never stopped lobbying for the fee, and immediately began meeting with council members they thought could be swayed.

Patrick Lacefield, Leggett’s spokesman, said Leggett was not promising council members anything in exchange for support of the fee — which would supplement local fire and rescue funding.

“Our view is this is not about politics,” Lacefield said. “We have a serious financial shortfall and we need this revenue to protect the lives and property of the people of Montgomery County.”

Volunteer firefighters have threatened a ballot referendum to overturn any effort to charge ambulance fees, but if Leggett can convince six council members to approve the fee, the surcharge would take effect immediately regardless of public sentiment.
Eric Bernard, executive director of the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, said his organization has redoubled its efforts to fight the fee by handing out 2,000 yard signs, speaking to civic groups and passengers at select Metro Stations.

“Approving this would have dire effects for people seeking re-election,” Bernard said. “We are already talking names, I’m not certain we could vote them out of office but we’d certainly make a strong argument as people are going to the polls.”
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