County suspends ambulance fee for CRR


by: Photo By Holly M. Gill - CRR Fire Chief Patrick Reitz asks county to drop fee and return money from fund.

   For more than a decade, every time the ambulance at Crooked River Ranch transported a patient from a Jefferson County property, the county collected a $10 fee.
   The fee went into an untouched fund, to be used by the county if the Crooked River Ranch Rural Fire Protection District (CRR RFPD), which operates the ambulance, ever stopped transporting patients.
   At the Feb. 9 meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners, CRR RFPD Chief Patrick Reitz asked the board to discontinue charging the fee, and give back the money the county has already collected.
   Although Reitz said that the district agrees that the county is well within its rights to charge the fee, "There are a number of issues with this ordinance."
   According to Reitz, there are five Ambulance Service Areas (ASA) in the county, all covered by separate districts or organizations: Jefferson County Emergency Medical Services, which operates independently, and covers most of the county; CRR RFPD, which covers the Ranch; Warm Springs Fire and Safety, which covers the reservation; the Redmond Fire Department, which covers the Lower Bridge area of Crooked River Ranch; and Sisters-Camp Sherman Rural Fire Protection District, which covers Camp Sherman.
   Diane Seyl, director of the County Health and Human Services Department, which oversees plans for Ambulance Service Areas (ASA) within a county, told the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners that the fee originated in 1994, when the county amended the county ambulance service agreement plan to assess a $10 fee per transport for each of the ASAs.
   "It was designed to protect the county in the event that somebody pulls out," said County Counsel Jacki Haggerty.
   Warm Springs Fire and Safety was granted a waiver from paying the fee, and JCEMS agreed to a performance property bond, or first lien on its property, in lieu of paying the fee.
   That left three ambulance providers who were supposed to pay the $10 per transport fee, Reitz pointed out, but CRR RFPD was the only one to ever pay the fee.
   "We never said we didn't want to pay it," Reitz explained. "We said, get rid of the triple standard. If we've got to pay it, then you've got to charge the other two ASAs."
   CRR RFPD covers about 12 square miles on the Ranch in the county, and another five square miles in Deschutes County, Reitz said. The district does not pay a fee to Deschutes County.
   "No other county in the state is charging collateral," said Reitz, whose district transported about 140 patients last year.
   Commissioner Bill Bellamy agreed that the county should not charge only CRR RFPD. "I think we should get rid of it," he said. "Legally, we don't have any liability. Politically, we have a lot of liability."
   The fees have accumulated in an account which had $11,746 in it at the end of January, according to Deena Goss, county treasurer.
   "If we charge the fee, we should keep the account," said Mary Zemke, commission chairman. "If we don't charge the fee, then why keep the account? For me, it's a straight line, logically."
   The commission voted unanimously to suspend the fee until it can take action on amending the ordinance.