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`THUMBS DOWN' ON $132 PARAMEDIC FEE

Davis County Sheriff Glenn Clary was hoping to get some support in the south end of the county for a plan that would increase revenue for the county's paramedic program.

South Davis County, however, sent him packing.Both the Bountiful City Council and the South Davis Ambulance Association have rejected the sheriff's request to start charging $132 to each ambulance patient whose life-threatening condition requires paramedics to ride aboard.

"I'm totally amazed (the sheriff's office) would put that burden on us," Bountiful Mayor Bob Linnell said.

"I think the county has got a lot of guts to ask us for money after they already charge the taxpayer," added Bountiful Councilman Harold Shafter.

"I'm strongly opposed to it," said Tony Glezos, president of the South Davis Ambulance Association. "It's raping the public."

About two weeks ago, Clary sent a letter to Bountiful, which has its own ambulance service, and to the association, which provides ambulance service for Farmington, Centerville, West Bountiful, Woods Cross and North Salt Lake.

The sheriff - whose office runs the county's paramedic program as well as an ambulance service for north Davis County - asked the southern entities, which already charge their own $100-plus ambulance fee, to begin charging the extra "paramedic aboard" fee. The new charge would also apply to the sheriff's ambulance service.

Why is the extra revenue necessary? So the sheriff can hire more paramedics.

"We're hurting really bad. We need some more paramedics." Clary said other cities and counties charge the "paramedic aboard" fee, which is allowed by law.

"Everybody's doing it."

The county employs 28 paramedics, who, because they are also deputy sheriffs, are constantly mobile. That number allows the sheriff to schedule two paramedic units for the morning and graveyard shifts and three units for the afternoon shift, which runs from 2 to 10 p.m.

The sheriff said two per shift are inadequate.

"With almost 200,000 people in the county, we need three on each shift. Every once in a while we get two to three calls at a time. It's really easy to get them both tied up at once."

A few weeks ago, for example, one of two sheriff's paramedic units on duty responded to a heart attack in the north end of the county, leaving the other unit in the south. "At the same time, we got a call on a serious injury in Clinton. We had to call Roy (paramedics) because our other unit was too far away."

With three units per shift, one unit could roam south Davis County, the other the central county and the third the north end of the county, Clary said.

Glezos, however, questioned the efficiency of the sheriff's paramedics, saying they respond to every medical call whether it's a minor laceration or a full coronary arrest.

"They're only needed for advanced life support," Glezos said.

But if the county does need to expand its program, then it should raise taxes, said Linnell.

The Bountiful mayor noted that voters 10 years ago approved a 1.5 mill property-tax levy to fund the paramedic program. However, the county is currently assessing only 1.25 mill, which generates about $900,000 for the paramedics.

"They have the ability to increase their mill levy, but they obviously don't want to take the political pressure of a tax increase," Linnell said.

But increasing the paramedic tax by one-fourth mill, which would raise about $180,000 more per year, may not be enough for 10 additional paramedics, estimated to cost about $300,000 more a year.

And charging the "paramedic aboard" fee would only raise about $144,000 a year.

So Clary's plan would most likely require a combination of the two revenue sources.

Given the failure of the sheriff to sell the "paramedic aboard" charge to south Davis County, the issue will likely end up before the County Commission, Clary said.

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(Additional information)

An expensive lift?

If you're injured in Bountiful, an ambulance ride to the hospital will cost you about $100 plus the cost of supplies. And it's one of the least-expensive ambulance services in the state.

Twenty percent of the time, an injury or illness is serious enough that the emergency room doctor may order a paramedic to accompany the patient in the ambulance.

Currently, the "paramedic aboard" service costs the patient nothing extra.

But under the sheriff's office proposal, it would cost $132 more. Of that extra charge, $100 would go to the sheriff's office and $32 to the ambulance service for administrative costs.

Not all insurance companies cover the ambulance fees. Some cover only a percentage.