Fire chiefs work on solution to emergency services funding shortfall

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Members of the Washougal and Camas City Councils will soon discuss potential solutions to the financial problems that are plaguing Camas’s emergency rescue fund, which helps support the dissemination of emergency 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.

In January, during the city of Camas’s annual planning conference, it was announced that a deficit of at least $310,000 in the emergency rescue fund is predicted for 2011. This comes in large part due to reduced property tax revenues, but also due to a decrease in the amount that can legally be collected from patients per changes in Medicaid and Medicare regulations.

During the planning conference, City Administrator Lloyd Halverson explained the seriousness of the situation.

“The path we are on is in no way sustainable,” he said. “Action must be taken.”

On Monday, April 18, a joint meeting will be held, during which interim Camas Fire Chief Monte Brachmann and Washougal Fire Chief Ron Schumacher will discuss recommendations as to how to help close the gap. A specific time and location for the meeting have not been determined.

Halverson said the chiefs have been working through a variety of options during recent months.

“I think the group is working hard on problem solving, and it’s not easy,” he said. “They are avoiding the temptation of ignoring, wishing or hoping that there’s not a problem.”

Representatives from East County Fire and Rescue will also be invited to attend the April 18 meeting, Halverson said.

During the planning conference, Mayor Paul Dennis said the funding deficit is not expected to be a short-term problem, but could impact the city for at least two to three years to come.

“We really need to think long-term about this service, and the delivery of this service,” he said. “It is a valuable and needed service. We need to figure out long-term, how does it get provided?”