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Under Plan, Cost of Overseeing Ambulances in Colorado Springs Up 19 Percent

The cost of overseeing the region's ambulance contractor will increase by 19 percent over this year and 178 percent over 2006 under a proposal scheduled for Colorado Springs City Council approval Tuesday.

The El Paso County Emergency Services Agency is seeking approval of its proposed 2008 budget of $438,000.

The ESA hires and monitors an ambulance contractor for the region. American Medical Response has a 10-year contract that expires next year.

AMR, which bills patients for its services, funds the ESA budget. No tax money is involved.

For the ESA's first eight years, the budget hovered around $100,000. In 2006, the budget was $157,052; this year, it rose to $368,349.

The budget climbed after the fivemember board grew to 11 voting members under a push for more accountability from County Commissioner Sallie Clark, who chairs the board.

Since the board changed, its legal fees have increased fivefold from $4,800 in 2006 to $25,000 this year, the same amount budgeted for 2008. Contract administration, which cost $42,557 in 2006, is expected to rise next year to $64,000.

Major changes in spending next year compared with this year include a 122 percent rise in the emergency fund to $136,000, a 143 percent bump in grants made to other providers such as rural fire departments, and a 100 percent increase in training and meeting costs.

Clark said the emergency fund is necessary to assure that operations could continue in emergency situations, such as if a contractor pulled out or was unable to perform its duties. AMR has a $1 million performance bond as required by the contract.

She also noted the emergency fund is refundable when the contract ends.

"It's a new 11-member board that has had a lot of questions," she said. "With the new RFP (Request for Proposal) coming around, there are additional expenses. Doctors have asked for legal opinions. There are contractual issues."

Clark said the previous ESA board, made up of local public safety officials, a doctor and a citizen, didn't adequately oversee AMR's contract.

For example, she said the budget for auditing and accounting went up from $1,500 in 2006 to $25,000 this year and next to cover an independent audit of AMR. AMR officials said the company pays for an audit, but Clark said it was not sufficient.

Since Clark became board chair, fines for such things as delayed responses have increased up to six times. She said that under the previous board, mandatory fines often were not levied.

AMR spokesman Mark Bruning said the ESA board has indicated it won't approve a rate increase in the next nine months beyond an inflation adjustment in 2008.

He said that in future years, the higher budget "could potentially translate into higher rates for patients and insurance companies, because increased costs will ultimately have to be accounted for in some manner."

ESA has extended AMR's contract for six months while the board issues a request for proposals for a new contract. That action also is up for review by the City Council on Tuesday.

Councilman Randy Purvis said Friday that he hadn't reviewed the budget and referred questions to fellow council member Margaret Radford, who also sits on the ESA board. Told of the increase, he said, "I think we need an explanation for how it's gone up so much, and hopefully we'll be able to get that."

The El Paso County Commission also must approve the budget.

CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0238 or pam.zubeck@gazette.com

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