Council okays ambulance utility fee

ARLINGTON – A $15 ambulance utility fee to slash mounting EMS costs and devote more general fund money for public safety needs was approved by the City Council Monday.

The new fee will appear on city residential and business customers’ utility bills starting in September.

The council had the option to consider a $10 monthly fee presented by City Administrator Paul Ellis that would not have met all immediate needs, vote against the fee altogether and hand the issue back to staff for further research.

The council and staff spent over four years weighing options to get EMS funding and public safety services on a more sustainable track, including forming its own regional fire authority or putting a property tax measure on the ballot.

With the fee in place, the city can move to hire two new police officers, the first added positions since 2003 that aren’t the result of attrition. In addition, three fire personnel and a third police officer will be hired over the next three years, or sooner if grant funding comes through.

Other operational needs met by the fee would include a grant-funded community resource paramedic, domestic violence coordinator for the prosecutor’s office, equipment replacement, fire inspection and fire marshal services, and continued funding for the city’s embedded social worker if the grant expires.

Arlington’s fee would be a restricted fund in the city budget, so monies couldn’t be used for other purposes, he said.

The council added language to their passage of the fee to require quarterly updates starting in September that specifies equipment and manpower purchases, and distribution of funds.

A July 2 public hearing on the fee drew a huge crowd and numerous letters and emails mostly opposed to the fee. The council voted 4-3 to table the issue to explore more options.

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