SAN ANGELO, Texas - The city is heading toward a new fire training center, and the City Council went with using raised ambulance fees to get there.
San Angelo Fire Department Chief Brian Dunn discussed the possibility of raising ambulance fees during the regular council meeting Tuesday, and the council decided to raise the rates to the averages of other cities.
The funds would help a $1.2 million grant from the Economic Development Administration to build a Concho Valley Regional Training Center, leaving a need for $1.4 million to go along with the federal funds and cover the cost of the $2.6 million building.
According to a city memo:
"This item is tied to the ability to fund a bond payment for a new fire training center. We are proposing fees that would be equal to the average of West Texas City- and County-run services. We haven't raised fees since 2008 because we have kept in sync with the federal government raises to Medicare. The costs to replace equipment and the supplies we use have been rising during this time frame. If the fees are raised to the requested level they will generate about $480,000 net of billing fees."
According to Dunn's presentation materials, the average price for basic life support for nonemergency in cities including Abilene, Odessa, Midland and Wichita Falls is $573.20, while for the SAFD it is $220. The average price for advanced life support 1 is $711.30 in those cities, and for San Angelo it is $385.
For other West Texas cities including El Paso, Fort Stockton-Pecos County, Big Spring, Ballinger and Sonora-Sutton County, the average basic life support cost is about $600, and the average price for advanced life support 1 is $770.
The proposed rates could be phased in, Dunn said.
Councilman Fredd Adams asked to go to the average in his motion.
Councilman Dwain Morrison asked what would happen with people who don't pay, and Dunn said those numbers are taken into account in the figure of how much the city would net, he said.
"I personally think we ought to be building our fire station with capital improvement funds instead of on the back of people who need an ambulance," Morrison said. "People that need an ambulance are already in trouble. ... I'm not going to support it."
The financing cost of the training facility for 10 years at 4 percent would be $170,092, or for 15 years at 4 percent would be $124,268 per year, according to Dunn's presentation materials.
The money from the fees also eventually could help the pay for emergency workers, or buy more ambulances, Dunn said, but that is up to the council. Mayor Alvin New said eventually the money from the increased rate fees also could lower the property taxes.
Gloria Priddy, the services coordinator at Plaza del Sol Retirement Center, said she was once billed $485 to get sent by ambulance to Shannon Medical Center for a broken leg, and many of the elderly at that retirement center are on a fixed income, some with average Social Security of about $700.
"Please think about the elderly," she said.
Morrison and Councilman Johnny Silvas voted against the item.
The new, 12-acre complex would replace the 1525 S. Concho Drive SAFD training facility and tower, built in 1965. The complex would have an at least four-story burn building, a classroom and offices all behind the city's animal shelter at 3142 U.S. Highway 67 N.
Dunn has said ambulance fees give the city about $2.3 million annually, and the money covers costs such as salaries.
"Congressman Mike Conaway and new City Manager Daniel Valenzuela will rappel down San Angelo's four-story fire training tower on Oct. 22 before leading a press conference detailing the partnerships that led to a $1.2 million federal grant to build a new regional fire training facility," a city news release states.