STOW -- The city will increase fees it charges to transport patients to hospitals by ambulance, but it should not impact residents.

City Council unanimously approved an ordinance increasing the fees April 13. Council also approved 10 ordinances which combined, authorize the purchases of equipment, mostly vehicles, for about $800,000. The purchases include a new ambulance and a dump truck for more than $190,000 each.

Prior to Council's vote on the ambulance fee ordinance, Council approved an amendment to automatically increase the fees by 2 percent each year, as well as to stipulate that the ordinance takes effect May 1.

Fire Chief Mark Stone has said the fees dated to 2001 and were no longer adequate to cover current costs.

According to Finance Director John Baranek, residents are only charged for what their insurance will pay and anything above that is waived, as are costs for residents without insurance. Non-residents are typically billed for any amount not covered by insurance, but if they can prove they are indigent, that cost is typically waived.

Stone said the proposed fees were developed after the city looked at other area fire departments to see what they charge.

Budget and Management Director John Earle told Council, also on March 23, that $663,000 in ambulance fees were collected in 2016. He told Council April 13 that at least of the cost of the new ambulance would probably be paid out of this fund.

City officials have estimated that the increase will bring in an additional $50,000 to $80,000.

Council President Mike Rasor, who proposed the addition of an annual 2 percent increase, said April 13 that it would limit the need for the fire department to have to keep making requests for fee increases.

"The fee that we charge should match up with how things progress in the market," he said.

Although the vote on the motion to amend the ordinance was also unanimous, Councilor Brian Lowdermilk said he was concerned about "a perpetual increase every year."

"When you look at 2 percent, well, it may sound cost of inflation, but 2 percent will continue to compound year after year after year in addition to the 2 percent," he said, adding that, "First of all, it takes away the power of the Council to some degree and it doesn't really give us the chance to address specific costs."

Councilor Bob Adaska said he worried that having a fixed increase would encourage suppliers to increase their costs, whether justified or not.

"I'd just have a hard time with that," he said. "I'd rather wait and see what the economy is doing and Council can adjust accordingly."

Stone said that given the trend in medical costs, 2 percent is not excessive.

"We considered 2 percent and 3 percent and we consider 2 percent to be a conservative, reasonable figure," he said.

Councilor John Pribonic said he believes an automatic increase will make it easier to ensure that the city recoups its costs.

"I wonder sometimes how much we actually missed out by not making an adjustment," said Pribonic, who asked Stone to periodically report to Council any adjustments up or down that may need to be made to the fees.

Equipment mostly replacements

Council appproved the purchase of about $800,000 in vehicles and other equipment for the fire, police, service and other departments.

City officials say that most of the purchases are replacements.

The purchases include, for the fire department:

A new ambulance with a cot loading system for $192,512. Stone said it will replace a 2008 model with about 120,000 miles on it. Stone said that ambulance will become a back-up ambulance while a 2002 ambulance, which has been a backup, will be given to the service department for use as a light truck.

A new Chevrolet Tahoe SUV for $36,776. Stone said it is to be used as a command operation vehicle, replacing a Ford Explorer. That vehicle will be given to Firefighter Sandy Ray for use in doing her job as the department's education coordinator, while the one-ton, 15-passenger van she has been using will be given to the department's dive team, which currently does not have a vehicle for hauling equipment after the department got rid of an old ambulance with maintenance issues the team had been using.

For the police department:

Two patrol cars and a detective bureau vehicle for a total of $84,248.10. Police Chief Jeff Film said they are all replacements for vehicles that have between 111,000 and 140,000 miles on them, with repair costs mounting.

For the service and other departments:

A dump truck for $198,657. Deputy Service Director Don Brooker said it will replace a 2003 plow truck.

A valve maintenance vehicle for $66,125.

"That's the only piece of equipment that's not a replacement," said Brooker.

He said the machine will allow the automatic turning of valves and also includes the ability to suction up water. It will make it safer and easier to repair water line breaks, said Brooker.

Two GMC 2500 four-wheel drive pickup trucks for $63,271. Brooker said one truck will replace a 1999 truck that was "totaled" in an accident last year and the other will replace a 2004 water department truck that will be sold at auction.

A smaller dump truck for $62,949, including the trade-in of a 2004 truck used in city parks.

An excavator for $49,410.88, including the trade-in of a 2000 model backhoe.

A Chevrolet Equinox for $24,388.50. Brooker said it replaces a 2004 Ford Escape in the building and engineering department, which has been transferred to the leaf pickup program.

A 20-ton trailer for hauling construction equipment for $ 21,255. Brooker said it will replace a 10-ton 1993 trailer and will not only be able to carry more equipment at once, but has a hydraulic ramp, making it easier and safer to load equipment.


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