GRANDVIEW - The Grandview City Council declined to sign on the dotted line last night.
Council members turned down a $10,000 monthly fee and interlocal agreement proposal submitted by Prosser Memorial Hospital for emergency medical services it provides to city residents.
The hospital is facing a $400,000 shortfall for its ambulance service and is hoping to recoup the funds from the cities of Grandview and Prosser, as well as from Benton and Yakima counties.
The shortage came about because of changes in how Medicare compensates ambulance charges.
Grandview City Attorney Jack Maxwell told council he has reservations about the fee-totaling $120,000 per year-because it doesn't represent charges for future services, but rather a cash infusion to meet a previous shortfall.
As a result, Maxwell noted that if the city agreed to this contract it might lead to a situation where Prosser would increase the monthly charge in the future.
While City Councilwoman Joan Souders sympathized with Prosser's plight, she shared Mayor Norm Childress' frustrations with the lack of information from the Prosser hospital. She also questioned the validity of the $10,000 figure.
In a letter outlining the proposed fee, Prosser Memorial Hospital CEO Jim Tavary said an ambulance representative would be available during last night's council meeting to answer questions. None were present.
Councilman Robert Morales felt the request was asking the citizens of Grandview to pay twice for ambulance service. He noted that those calling for an ambulance already pay for the trip through insurance, private pay or a combination of both.
"If a resident's insurer pays that ambulance bill and the city is also paying he's going to ask how come I'm paying twice," Morales said.
Councilwoman Helen Darr also pointed out that Prosser Memorial already has a building in Grandview up for sale.
Childress said, if approved, the $10,000 monthly fee could be a slippery slope.
He asked if Medicare doesn't reimburse Safeway at 100 percent when it fills prescriptions, will the store approach the city to pick up the rest of the tab. "Is it our responsibility to pick up the difference?" Childress asked.
City Administrator Scott Staples said the real solution for Prosser Memorial and its ambulance service is legislation to address the Medicare shortfall.
But even that's iffy at this point.
"There's no guarantee at all Congress will act to solve the problem in a timely fashion," Staples observed.
Before taking action in unanimously declining the $10,000 per month interlocal agreement, council members were told by Childress that in his talks with Prosser there was no indication the hospital would pull the ambulance service if Grandview declined the fee proposal.
Language in the contract proposed by Prosser Memorial does stipulate a termination clause if either party does not meet the terms of the pact.
Childress said the city does not have a contingency plan if Prosser drops ambulance service to Grandview in response to council's decision.
But he said that doesn't mean there aren't possible scenarios in the event Prosser pulls out, such as seeking a partnership with Sunnyside or for Grandview to perhaps run its own ambulance service.
"If they withdraw service it may be an opportunity for something to open up elsewhere," Childress said.