Fire officials in Northern Cowlitz County are getting closer to an agreement whereby Fire District 6, in Castle Rock, can begin charging Fire District 3, in Toutle, for paramedic service, despite concerns about the potential impact on District 3's budget.
Commissioners and volunteers from both districts met during a workshop Jan. 14 to discuss their expectations of such an agreement, as District 6 has begun invoicing District 3 $380 per dispatch, while District 3 says they are unwilling to honor such invoices unless an interlocal agreement is in place.
Concerns about ambulance transportation between Districts 6 and 3 began last summer while Fire District 2 officer Kurt Stich was serving as interim chief for District 6. Stich said, as his own district had discovered while providing paramedic services to the City of Longview, District 6 would not be allowed to offer transportation services for free to District 3 unless District 3 was able to respond in-kind.
District 3 does not currently qualify for a transportation license due to state and county staffing guidelines, according to District 3 EMS Coordinator Karen Hardy, and has traditionally turned to neighboring districts for such services.
Following the advice of Stich, District 6 commissioned a study toward the end of last year that determined $380 per dispatch would cover the costs incurred by District 6 during a response, and, after failing to receive a reply from District 3 regarding such terms, they began billing District 3 accordingly in November.
District 3 has since stated they feel they have no obligation to honor these charges in the absence of an inter-local agreement, and agreed to begin holding a series of workshops to hammer out the issue.
During the Jan. 14 meeting, it was clarified by District 6 officials they are not simply seeking compensation for their responses, in the sense that billing the patient could be an alternative to billing District 3, but are attempting to comply with state laws against gifting public resources and must require some form of compensation directly from the district.
District 3 officials said they were concerned, at a rate of $380 per dispatch with an average of around 300 dispatches per year, they would end up dedicating roughly half of their total yearly budget to paying District 6, which they said was simply not an option.
It was stated one alternative to a direct payment for dispatches could be the contribution of equipment or services of comparable value, such as District 3 purchasing a new ambulance for District 6 every five years or so, which District 3 said would still have un undesirable impact on their budget, though District 6 Commissioner Mike Kayser pointed out such an option could be around two thirds less than paying $380 per dispatch.
At the end of the meeting, officials from both districts resolved they would like to continue toward an interlocal agreement both parties would feel comfortable with, and a second workshop was scheduled for Jan. 28 at 4 p.m. at District 6 headquarters.
Until a resolution is found, or the commissioners of either district change their minds, District 6 said they intend to continue charging $380 per dispatch to District 3, while District 3 said they feel still feel they have no obligation to honor the charges.