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Montgomery County approves ambulance fees

Tuesday - 5/15/2012, 4:06pm  ET

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The new ambulence fee policy would take effect Jan. 2013. (Courtesy Montgomery County, Md.)

WASHINGTON - The Montgomery County Council approved ambulance fees Tuesday, effectively overturning what voters decided in a referendum just 18 months ago.

Only insurance companies will get billed under the plan, not individuals.

"If you have insurance in Montgomery County, you are paying for this cost," County Executive Ike Leggett told WTOP in April. "The customers are already paying for it. They're paying for it right now. We just don't have a way to collect it."

Councilmember Phil Andrews called the bill a "radical thing" Tuesday and a "thumb in the eye" of voters. But Montgomery County Fire and Service Chief Richard Bowers says the fees, which neighboring jurisdictions collect, will help improve response times.

Opponents of the proposal worry residents might think twice about calling 911 in an emergency. Leggett says there's no evidence people hold back in neighboring counties, all of which have similar fees.

The fee would produce about $17 million per year, the county executive says.

"If we are not able to come up with additional revenues, and if we're not able to reduce the budget to that point, we're going to have to find another way to do this," Leggett says.

Without the fees, Leggett says he'd need to cut $11 million from the budget.

The policy would take effect January 2013, though councilmembers believe the issue could go to another referendum.

WTOP's Kate Ryan and Andrew Mollenbeck contributed to this report.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)