The Baker City Council has to decide by Halloween whether to accept a federal grant that will pay the majority of the cost to hire three new firefighter/paramedics over a three-year period.
But officials from both the city and Baker County are looking further into the future with regards to ambulance service.
As they should.
Based on recent trends for fire department revenue and the volume of calls it handles — in particular ambulance runs, which outnumber fire calls fivefold — it looks as though the city won’t be able to maintain its current service without more employees, which obviously requires more money. The city’s ambulance service area includes most of Baker County.
Among the ideas that city and county officials have discussed is asking voters to create an ambulance district, or combined ambulance/fire district, for areas outside the city limits. Property owners inside the district would be taxed to help pay for ambulance and/or fire services.
Baker City property owners already do this. More than $1 million of their property taxes goes to the fire department annually.
The city does charge more for ambulance runs outside the city limits — $2,144 for a basic life support call outside the city, $1,079 for a run inside the city — but in many cases the city doesn’t collect the full amount because the patient’s insurance pays only a portion.
Although ambulance calls are more frequent than fire calls, the latter is likely to become a larger issue outside the city because the volunteers who run rural fire districts are aging, and at this point there is not a sufficient number of volunteers to replace them.
Baker County has a legal responsibility to ensure ambulance services for residents in unincorporated areas. Baker City’s Fire Department has been the provider for decades, and we think it’s likely to remain the best option.
But to make that possible, it’s also likely that residents will have to pay more in property taxes in the future.
From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of publisher Kari Borgen, editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.