Washougal asked to give support to EMS program

Fire chiefs also recommend trial 'functional consolidation'

Camas and Washougal fire department officials are recommending a plan that calls for Washougal to hire a new firefighter and also contribute a lump sum of cash — all in an effort to help offset a major shortfall in the Camas fund that supports the dissemination of local emergency medical services in east Clark County.

For more than three decades, as part of a voter-approved emergency medical services property tax levy, Camas has been part of an agreement that stipulates that the Camas Fire Department provides paramedic services to residents living within its boundaries, as well as those of the city of Washougal and the East County Fire and Rescue district in unincorporated Clark County.

Taxpayers in all three jurisdictions contribute to the fund through the levy, which has been renewed every six years since 1980.

This year, Camas is facing a deficit of $310,000 in its emergency rescue fund. According to city officials, this comes in large part due to reduced property tax revenues. Also having an impact is the implementation at the federal level of cuts in the amounts that can legally be collected from patients per changes in Medicaid and Medicare regulations.

For the past few months, Camas Interim Fire Chief Monte Brachmann and Washougal Fire Chief Ron Schumacher have been working on potential fund deficit solutions, which were reviewed during last night’s joint city council meeting at the Camas Public Library.

The recommended path forward has Washougal contributing $95,000 to the Camas EMS fund, and adding to its roster a new firefighter/IV technician position (at a cost of approximately $55,000 in 2011) who would be stationed with an ambulance at the WFD facility on “A” Street. The plan also calls for changes to discretionary leave scheduling policies, which is expected to reduce overtime costs.

In addition, under the recommended option the two cities would work under a six-month trial “functional operational consolidation,” specifically relating to emergency response staff — firefighters, paramedics, captains and battalion chiefs.

According to the chiefs, the different elements of this option would help reduce overtime expenses by allowing the use of personnel across department lines. All told $115,800 would be saved, with the remaining $194,200 still left to be covered with Camas EMS reserve funding.

“I think the biggest thing is how does this impact both communities?” Schumacher said. “I think having an ambulance in Washougal is a big consideration.”

Other scenarios presented but not recommended by the chiefs included eliminating two Camas firefighter/paramedic positions and stationing an ambulance at Station 172 on 39th Street for 12 hours per day instead of 24 hours per day; having Washougal transfer $150,000 in cash to the Camas EMS fund; and having Washougal provide one firefighter/IV tech for one shift at Station 172, and transfer $95,000 to the EMS fund.

Washougal Councilman Dave Shoemaker asked about long-term plans to create financial stability for the east Clark County EMS program.

“What in this solution is going to stop us from being here next year?” he questioned.

Washougal Councilman Rod Morris echoed those concerns.

“What are we going to do to eliminate this [shortfall], so we are not back here next year?” he said. “I don’t want to deplete our reserves.”

Washougal City Administrator David Scott said discussions about a more long-term solution to the EMS funding issue will be ongoing.

“There is no doubt that this is a continuing problem,” Scott said. “What we are presenting to you today doesn’t solve the structural problem in the long-term. Today is a temporary solution. The commitment from our staff is to continue to work on the problem, but in the meantime we have a deficit in 2011.”

The cities are awaiting the results of a financial assessment of both departments that are currently being conducted by Paul Lewis. This could result in revealing some additional cost-saving efficiencies, and potentially lead to an eventual merger of the two departments.

The Washougal City Council is expected to discuss the fire chiefs’ recommendation during its workshop on Monday, at 6 p.m., at Washougal City Hall. Formal action could be taken during Washougal’s supplemental budget discussion in mid-May.