By editorial board • 

Now not the time for new fines, fees

Thanks to voters, the city charter now prohibits taking local care centers for an ambulance fine and fee ride.

No problem. Fire officials can get around that by taking the entire user population for a ride.

Here’s hoping city councilors pause to consider two or three times as they review Fire Chief Rich Leipfert’s ideas for a broad “cost recovery” endeavor.

His department definitely faces fiscal problems. It’s facing a projected budget shortfall of more than $1 million, and that doesn’t count the $100,000 it had already budgeted for care center licensing revenue.

The licenses would have cost centers $500 initially and $200 per bed annually. But voters rejected that last month with their approval of a charter amendment.

The amendment also removed the threat of a $1,500 fine for placement of unnecessary 911 calls by care center employees. But none of those fines were ever collected anyway, because the threat served as an adequate deterrent on its own.

In contrast, officials were really counting on money from the licenses. With that program extinguished, they’re now seeking other ways to finance ambulance costs.

Leipfert suggested imposing stiffer fines and charging for issuing permits, conducting inspections and reviewing fire prevention plans, without singling out the care industry. While some of those suggestions might be worth considering, they wouldn’t do much to ease shortages the department faces.

Presenting voters with a broader public safety levy might be a gamble, but could ultimately prove unavoidable. If so, it will become a much longer shot if crabby voters feel they’ve been nickeled and dimed unfairly a the meantime. And voters figure to get even crabbier if they think the nickels and dimes were in response to the charter amendment.

Rank-and-file firefighters took a mostly neutral stand on the amendment, saying the money it promised would serve only to apply a Band-Aid to a gaping wound. We think councilors should take a similarly long view.

We understand the desire for cost recovery. But in the wake of the election setback, discussing new fines and fees could be construed as political backlash.

If so, the Oregon Health Care Association and like-minded forces would have a field day leading the opposition.

The fire department needs longer-term solutions, especially as city officials consider the possibility of joining a regional fire district with neighboring communities.

City officials must re-establish their relationship with voters. They will need voters’ goodwill for a public safety levy, and, eventually, a regional district.

New fines and fines? Not the way to make friends.

Comments

Mike D

We need to know the details of the million dollar problem. What it means if it is not dealt with.