At Monday night’s Havre City Council meeting, during council member Allen “Woody” Woodwick's report of that day’s Finance Committee meeting, he talked about a request from Havre Fire Chief Dave Sheppard to change the current ambulance rates from a $300 base and $10 per mile to a $500 base and a $12 per mile fee, for the department’s 1,200 annual calls.
“A lot of these (surrounding) counties cost more and they have volunteer firefighters, ” Woodwick said. “So I don’t think we’re out of line here. ”
Sheppard said this morning that the current rates have been in place since 2008 and, with the inflationary increases, it is time to look at changing them again.
“At times, I think we have a tendency to want to hold the line with these (rates), ” Sheppard said. “Time goes by in a hurry, and before we know it we’re behind the eight ball.
“The cost of doing business is going up every year, so we really need to look at increasing our fees more often.”
He said that with the outlook of this year’s budget, with drafts already bouncing around City Hall, his department has to find some way to make up for impending cuts.
“The city’s looking at the possibility of cutting budgets this year, so we need to look at ways to increase revenue where we can, ” Sheppard said.
While the new prices are substantial, including a 67 percent increase in the base price alone, Sheppard said he feels comfortable with that change, looking at the rates of other counties in the area.
“We looked at fees charged by other services in the area, ” Sheppard said. “We’re right in that ballpark. We are kind of in the middle. We’re not the highest. We’re not the lowest. ”
He and Woodwick mentioned Liberty and Toole counties in particular during the meeting last night.
In Toole County, the ambulance services are run by 17 volunteers, paid a small stipend, out of the Marias Medical Center in Shelby. The ambulance is used around 360 times a year, according to Myron Frydenlund, the program’s coordinator. The cost of a ride with them is $675.
Liberty County’s ambulances are used about one-third as frequently as Toole, with 20 volunteers. Their charges are a $400 base with $10 per mile added.
In Blaine County there are three crews that make ambulance runs.
The Chinook crew, co-chiefed by Laurie Huestis, is made up of 18 volunteers and makes about 200 runs a year.
In Turner, Bonnie Harmon leads a team of 15 volunteers that, she estimates, are called out about 20 times a year.
Tom Ragsdale is the crew chief of the Harlem crew, though he has been out of town lately for medical reasons. Brian Baker has been serving in his place, but couldn’t be reached by deadline.
All three of these departments charge $325 for an Advanced Life Support Response, $275 for Basic Life Support and $5 per mile for trips less than 25 miles and $3.50 per mile for trips longer than that.
The council acknowledged the request and sent the raise to the city attorney’s office to be drafted as a resolution for consideration at a future council meeting.