Ambulance, water rates rising for city residents

June 29, 2011

If you need a ride to the hospital, plan on paying a lot more for it in the near future.

Hood River Fire Department requested and received approval for a $600 raise in its basic life support ambulance transport rate at Monday night's Hood River City Council meeting.

The cost per transport is rising from $900 to $1,500.

Hood River Fire Chief Devon Wells said the rate was last raised in 2009, but that its last significant adjustment came nearly four years ago.

"There are so many things that go into an ambulance run," Wells said. "The cost of fuel has gone way up and so has the cost of medical supplies."

In addition to the dramatic increase for basic ambulance services, the costs for Advanced Life Support Ambulance calls is also rising; just at a more modest rate.

The cost of ambulance services is not the only thing Hood River residents will be paying more for under the 2011-12 fiscal year budget which the council passed Monday night.

The cost of water usage is going up 5 percent, but the cost of sewer will remain the same.

Mayor Arthur Babitz said the increase will be staggered over two years.

"(Water) is less than half the bill for most people," he said. It's not that bad of an increase."

The cost of various city planning and use permits is also going up in the budget. The biggest increase is in conditional use planning permits, which increase from $1,193 to $1,593.

Residents who want to park in front of the library on either side of State Street may soon be paying more to do so.

The council voted unanimously to allow Babitz to approach the library board with a proposal to raise the cost for parking in front of the library to one dollar per hour; a 25-cent increase.

If approved, the extra 25 percent of revenues will go toward helping offset the cost of the city's landscaping of the park outside the library and give the project a dedicated source of funding.

"It makes it more likely that future councils will support this funding because there is a funding source associated with it," Babitz said of the proposal.

Also at Monday's meeting the council awarded the city hall renovation contract to Triplett Wellman Contractors of Woodburn. The council approved $940,098 for the project, which will improve the structural integrity of the building as well as upgrade HVAC and ventilation systems. The project is expected to be completed by December.

There was some minor drama toward the end of the council's work session prior to the meeting when councilor Dawna Armstrong laid out a proposal for a real estate committee to evaluate pricing and strategy for the city.

The committee would have potentially included two city councilors, City Manager Bob Francis and one representative each from five real estate brokers.

Armstrong made the presentation with the city's current broker of record, Greg Colt, sitting in the audience.

City Attorney Dan Kearns recommended against the committee due to potential conflicts of interests of having all of the real estate brokers meeting together.

Colt also argued against the plan when given the opportunity to speak.

"Having even two real estate brokers fighting over these listings would be ridiculous," Colt said. "I would bow out. If you don't like the job I've been doing for you I would bow out with no hard feelings … I don't know why you guys think I'm not qualified to do the job you hired me to do. You haven't given me a chance."

The council eventually decided to have further deliberations on the committee and will decide whether it wants to renew its contract with Colt at a later date.

The council also heard from Wells regarding upcoming replacements of fire apparatus. He said the department is due to purchase several new vehicles in the coming year, including a brush truck, medic, remote access vehicle and command vehicle.

He said the brush truck was the most urgent need and could be purchased by the end of July to replace the city's current 1991 model.

He also said the fire department was working to help stagger the mileage on vehicles to help spread out their replacement times and added that following this year the next big purchase would not be until 2021.

Babitz ended the public portion of the meeting by giving his mayor's report. He said he participated in a panel discussion Sunday with 30 members of the Chinese Communist Youth Party, who were touring American municipalities to learn about government reform.

He said the conversation was both interesting and difficult at times, with two interpreters and vast cultural and political differences.

He said he explained to the Chinese group how he grew up in New York and then moved to Hood River.

They found it noble that he would "go be amongst the people" before returning to New York to run for higher political office.

For the record, Babitz added he has no plans to return to New York to run for political office.

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