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City recommends more than doubling ambulance utility rates over next two years

Sunnyside's subcommittee on finance and administrative services met last week to discuss the city's ambulance utility rates and how to make the service pay for itself instead of relying on the city's general fund.

Sunnyside is one of only a few cities in the state to have its own ambulance utility. A recent study by the FCS Group presented to the city council on July 9 noted that utility rate revenues for the ambulance cover less than half the cost of the service.

The staff recommendation is to more than double the utility rate for ambulance service in the city over the next two years to make the utility self-sufficient. The staff also recommended applying annual inflation adjustments as allowed by law.

"The goal is to not change the level of service," said Fire Chief Aaron Markham. He also noted that ambulance utility rates have not been raised in the last two years and that Sunnyside's rates are the second to the lowest rates in the state.

For most residents of the city, the result would be an increase from $4.16 a month to approximately $6.60 a month next year, with the rate increasing to at least $8.76 a month in 2014.

Staff also suggested adjusting the calculations used to determine how much businesses in the city should pay in order to spread the costs in a more equitable manner.

The city uses Equivalent Residential Units (ERU) as a base for the formula that determines rates. Each unit is equal to 3.6 people living at a single address. For businesses, the number of units it multiplied depending on the type of business and number of employees. Staff recommended raising the cap on employees per building counted in the calculation from 101 to 200.

City staff suggested changing the calculation for hotels, motels and nursing homes to be based on the number of rooms. This would result in most hotels in the area paying more and the nursing homes paying the same or slightly less.

The new rates would also require those people with a Medicaid exemption to verify the exemption with the city with a written application. The eligibility of the exemption would be checked quarterly.

Staff also recommended setting a rate sheet instead of including rates in the city code. The rate sheet would include all utility rates for the city and would be adopted separately by the council.

The committee decided to set a public hearing date for the new rates and asked staff to meet with business leaders that would be most affected by the proposed changes.

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