SALEM Council panel questions plan for city ambulance

City officials say that, overall, private ambulance companies are doing a satisfactory job.
SALEM -- Members of city council's traffic and safety committee are expressing doubt about a proposal to create a municipal ambulance service partly through a 1-mill property tax levy.
Councilmen Greg Oesch, R-3rd, and Fred Vogel, R-at large, said Monday that billing fees and the nearly $206,000 in annual revenue from the proposed levy wouldn't nearly cover the service's cost.
What's more, the three private companies covering emergency ambulance runs for the city are doing an adequate job, Oesch and Vogel added.
Despite occasional complaints, there has been no documented case that someone died or suffered serious harm because an ambulance took too long to reach a scene, they said.
"Maybe sometimes it's not as fast as some people think it should be," Oesch, traffic and safety committee chairman, said.
Regulation met: A city regulation requires that private ambulances that serve the city respond to an emergency within nine minutes.
Vogel said his study indicates that the time limit is virtually always met.
"I don't see where we're in an alarm situation," Oesch said.
Salem-area resident Stephanie Ritchie is behind the levy-supported municipal ambulance service effort.
Ritchie, who was unavailable for comment Monday, began publicly campaigning for it after she was dissatisfied with the cost of her daughter's ride to Salem Community Hospital by a private ambulance company.
Ritchie told the traffic and safety committee last week that revenue from the levy would help fund a service consisting of one ambulance, costing $70,000, and three people whose pay and benefits would total about $130,000 annually.
They disagree: Oesch and Vogel estimate that the cost could easily be more than $700,000.
They argued that a service would take more than three people and would require more than one ambulance and a place to house them.
Training, certifications and equipment costs would push the expense even higher, they said.
"It's not a simple matter of buying a vehicle, backing it into a garage and saying, 'We're in the ambulance business,'" Oesch said.

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