Danville's proposed $300 fire fee raises questions
DANVILLE — Any time the Danville fire department responds to a medical call and makes "patient contact," that patient will get a $300 bill from the city, under a new proposal that will be debated this week.
It's the city's latest attempt to find creative ways to close an estimated $1 million gap between projected revenue and expenses in the next fiscal year, which begins May 1. The $300 fire fee is part of the city's budget proposal that aldermen will vote to put on display for public comment Tuesday night.
City officials estimate the new plan could generate about $252,000 in additional revenue annually. That figure is based on the about 1,200 medical calls the fire department responded to last year and a 70 percent collection rate on the bills, according to Mayor Scott Eisenhauer.
But several key questions about the proposal remain unanswered, chief among them whether the $300 fee would be covered by insurance plans or come out of patients' pockets.
If the proposal passes, Eisenhauer said the city would bill individuals directly, and they would have to figure out the best way to pay. If individuals can't pay the entire bill at once, the mayor said the city could work out a payment plan, as it does with other fees it's owed.
In 2013, medical emergency calls represented about 55 percent of the 2,195 calls the fire department responded to. Only about 8 percent of the calls were for actual fires.
Danville is served by a private ambulance company, Medix, but the fire department is also automatically dispatched to the majority of medical calls in the city.
Eisenhauer said he didn't know how many of the medical emergency calls the fire department responded to last year resulted in patient contact.
Also unclear is whether insurance providers would cover the bills of both the private ambulance service and the fire department for the same call, said Danville Public Safety Director Larry Thomason. Typically, providers pay only whichever agency transports the patient, Eisenhauer said.
While the city projects more revenue than previously anticipated in the next fiscal year, a deficit remains likely. That has left officials brainstorming new ways to generate revenue. An earlier proposal by Eisenhauer — to charge residents and businesses a flat $8 monthly fire fee — met stiff opposition and was ruled out.
The $300 fee proposal alone would accompany other cost reductions, including some cuts inside the fire department. Those would include one clerical worker's job and reductions in employee travel/training and supplies/materials.
The rest of the savings would come from an early retirement program, through the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, that could save the city up to $240,000. Eisenhauer said some of the positions vacated would either go unfilled or filled by employees earning lower wages or with less costly benefits.
Up to 30 city employees, excluding ineligible fire and police personnel, could take advantage of the early retirement program, which allows employers to buy up to five years of service toward retirement.
Eisenhauer said the city has surveyed employees about whether they'd participate, but couldn't disclose how many indicated they would.
Help's on the way
Of the 2,195 calls the Danville fire department responded to last year, 1,210 were for emergency medical services:
Assist EMS: 562
Motor vehicle accidents: 25
Extrication from vehicles/machinery: 6
Removal from stalled elevator: 5