howardnlBy Howard Stephenson

. The West Valley City Council has voted to drop their ambulance service currently provided at no cost to taxpayers by Gold Cross Ambulance. Instead, they have opted for a taxpayer- funded ambulance service to be provided through the local fire department.

I believe this is a huge mistake and I pleaded with the council to delay their decision until they had answers to several questions on the proposed switch.

I believe their decision will raise taxes and reduce service.

On election night, November 2, 2004, the Council held a public hearing on the city’s proposal to end the twenty-four year old privately-run ambulance service operated by Gold Cross.

A great deal of testimony was presented both for and against the idea. Testimony for the idea appeared to come largely from firefighters, union representatives, or close friends of firemen. Few ordinary citizens were able to attend on election night. One local business owner supported the city’s plan, but testified he has not had any problem with the service Gold Cross has been providing.

To me this movement for local governments to take over ambulance service is nothing less than empire building.

The president of Gold Cross Services, Inc., Jared D. Miles provided testimony against the city’s plan. Both Gold Cross and your Taxpayers Association conducted their own analysis of the city’s proposal and found the proposal would cost the city more money.

Gold Cross predicted that the city would loose approximately $472,475 a year after collecting service charges by taking the service in-house. He also testified based upon the historic records of Gold Cross, the loss would grow much larger when the city determines additional ambulances and personnel must be hired to meet 9-1-1 system demand for the service.

According to the city’s plan, it costs approximately $336,343 a year to provide an additional 24/7 on-duty ambulance. If just one additional ambulance is needed, the city’s annual loss would grow to $808,818. Mr. Miles testified that Gold Cross currently owns sixty-two ambulances, with fifty-two of them serving the Salt Lake Valley. The city’s plan would provide just three ambulances and two multi-role, transporting fire engines. Additional back-up ambulance resources will have to come from licensed neighboring communities.

Currently, because Gold Cross covers most of Salt Lake County, it is able to provide immediate back-up when ambulances are responding to calls. This back-up capacity will be diminished through the city-owned service.

Gold Cross has been meeting the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) response time standard over 94% of the time. For over the past twenty-four years not a single dollar of taxpayer money has gone to fund the company’s operations, because they receive their funding through state regulated user fees. Those who need the service – not taxpayers – pay for the service. The company is a tax paying organization, not a tax consuming one. If the company experiences a loss, stockholders make up the difference – not taxpayers. The company recently conducted a customer satisfaction survey of over 600 customers. Those results were over 97% of those responding rated Gold Cross’ overall service good to excellent.

After considering all the input, the city council voted unanimously to accept the plan. State law now requires their decision to be ratified by the state regulatory body, the Utah Department of Health, prior to actually beginning operations.

Gold Cross will have the opportunity to protest the city’s procurement process or challenge the city’s action in Third District Court.

I believe this move by firefighters and local officials across the valley is motivated more by empire building than by service quality. This is just one more example of local governments in Utah going contrary to the current privatization movement.

West Valley City is the poster child of government socialization of services. The last figures I saw showed they’ve got more debt per capita than any municipality in the state. They’ve got a city-operated fitness center, indoor stadium, fiber-optic communication network currently being built, and now ambulance service.

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