Wednesday, March 5, 2014
The City of Cascade Locks will be asking voters this May to approve a ballot measure that aims to bolster funding for its Emergency Medical Services department by tacking on a service fee to its customers’ electric bills.
Last week, the Cascade Locks City Council passed Resolution 1296, which sends the measure to the May 20 primary ballot. If approved, the measure would apply the fee to all City of Cascade Locks electric utility customers in the EMS department’s “designated or contracted ambulance service area,” which runs from the east end of the parking lot at Multnomah Falls (exit 31 on Interstate 84) to the east end of Viento State Park (milepost 56).
The proposal would tack on a $6 monthly fee to the electric bills of residential customers within the city limits and a $7 fee for commercial and public agency meters. Outside the city, residential customers would pay an $8 monthly fee and commercial and public agencies would pay $9.
The text of the resolution states that costs of providing EMS “have been steadily rising and are paid out of the city’s EMS fund, which is facing declining revenues for all services.” It also states the city council felt that charging an electric service fee to help defray EMS costs was appropriate because the city’s electric utility service area encompasses both the city limits and the ambulance service area. According to the resolution, the collected fees would be used “solely for the payment of costs associated with Cascade Locks EMS,” including such items as personnel, materials, services, capital purchases, the implementation and administration of intergovernmental agreements dealing with EMS, and savings for future capital expenditures.
Cascade Locks City Administrator Gordon Zimmerman said the city is proposing the new fee structure as a way to replace a 2-percent utility surcharge and an $8 household fee formerly used to supplement funding for the EMS department. According to Zimmerman, those charges were approved years back by the city council, who never put the issue on the ballot. Zimmerman said the current five-member council — all of whom started their terms last year — felt that this time, the decision of EMS funding should be left up to the voters.
The public had an opportunity to weigh in on the proposed measure during a town hall meeting earlier last month. Zimmerman said 38 people attended the meeting and generally were “very positive, very understanding of the need to do this.”
According to the meeting minutes, some members of the audience requested the council examine other ways to fund the EMS department. One individual asked the city to look for any federal funding that might be made available to the EMS department due to its location inside the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Another suggested the council should request more money from Multnomah County, which pays the city of Cascade Locks a $20,000 annual fee to provide EMS services to the eastern portions of the county. Zimmerman said during the meeting that the city would be examining both options.
If the revenue situation does change, council has the option of reducing or even eliminating the electric service fees, but cannot raise them. If the ballot measure is approved, the fees will go into effect July 1 and will remain in place until June 30, 2019, unless council takes action to revise the fee structure. Anyone with questions about the fees can call the city of Cascade Locks at 541-374-8484.