Councilmembers should be commending, not criticizing, Economic Development Commission

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Editor:

Councilmember Plunkett commented at the Jan. 23rd council meeting that he wants to do away with the volunteer Economic Development Commission. Councilmember Buckshnis hasn’t stated that she wants to abolish the ECD, but she has joined Mr. Plunkett in disparaging that valuable group.

The root cause for Plunkett’s and Buckshnis’ ECD concerns is their dislike for a proposal from that citizens’ group to invoice citizens a non-transport charge when they call 911 for EMS, and after an onsite examination EMS personnel conclude that no transport to a hospital is required. The charge will obviously be a lesser amount than for transport. There are other communities that have implemented this charge that is generally paid for by insurance companies. Charges for citizens who do not have insurance will be written off.

This non-transport charge has been deemed by the two council members to not be economic development. What is economic development? My view is that economic development is any action/activity, other than increasing taxes, that grows the city’s revenue. To suit their purposes, Mr. Plunkett and Ms. Buckshnis have defined the non-transport charge to be a tax. How ridiculous; they haven’t defined the transport fee to be a tax! I think that they should let us all know the names of their health insurance companies. Wouldn’t we all like to have health insurance companies who would pay taxes for us.

Mr. Plunkett has stated that he feels that the ECD has diluted their mission of economic development by spending their time to develop this non-transport proposal. Since the formation of the ECD in 2009, I have attended, as an observer, all but two or three of the commission’s monthly meetings. Regrettably, most council members, including Mr. Plunkett, have not attended a single meeting. Had he done so he would have known that the proposal took only a miniscule amount of the commission’s time. Virtually all of the work was done at home by commission member Darrol Haug.

So rather than criticizing the group, Mr. Plunkett and Ms. Buckshnis should be commending them for coming up with a viable source of revenue, at no cost to citizens, that no one else had conceived. I hope that at the council retreat this week city council will extend the ECD’s duration indefinitely, as is the case for other volunteer groups like the Hwy 99 Task Force and the Citizens Technical Advisory Committee. It’s reasonable to assume that there will always be a need for a focus on economic development.

Ron Wambolt
Edmonds

P.S. The following is another paper’s published response from Councilmember Plunkett: “I’ll leave it to Ron Wambolt to explain to the people of Edmonds as to why he wants to tax their 911 emergency phone calls. And I’ll focus on stopping Ron Wambolt or any one else from taxing 911 emergency phone calls.”

The EDC’s proposed charge is clearly only defined as a tax in Mr. Plunkett’s exclusive dictionary. His response immediately above is no more than a filibuster tactic.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Ron B.

    If it was truly a tax, do you really think that any insurance company would ever pay it? And if it is a tax, why isn’t the transport charge a tax?

    I have exactly the same insurance as you do. You will not get stuck for the $200 co-pay because what FD1 cannot collect from insurance will be written off by them. And I’m not talking just theory, that’s what’s happened with EMS calls for my wife who has had a heart attack – the EMS personnel are well acquainted with our place.

    And, by the way, if this non-transport charge does not get implemented it means that some insurance companies will be off of the hook for coverage that they’re liable for. The result of that is that more money than need be will come from property taxes to cover the city’s FD1 contract – insurance companies win; Edmonds taxpayers lose.

  2. Ron B.

    You spoke to the wrong organization. FD1 would be filing the claim for EMS services; when your insurance company deducts the $200 from their payment it would then be written off by FD1. Since you don’t want to believe me, I suggest that you call the headquarters of FD1 on Monday. Then come back here and tell the readers what you learned.

    The EDC is concentrating on economic development. The non-transportation charge proposal was researched by one member; the commission spent little time on it – and that’s known by Council Member Buckshnis.

  3. Ron B.:

    I have stated how it has worked for us because we provided them our insurance information before any billing was done; I guess that there’s a different process for you.

  4. Sorry to spoil the fun. Here is what it says in the Edmonds Ord 3706 about charging. This is also in Chaper 5.60 ECC section 5.60.010 Section B.

    “B. A resident of the City, or a resident of a jurisdiction that contracts with the City for EMS, or an employee at, and transported from, a business within the City or a jurisdiction that contracts with the City for EMS, who supplies the City with information and documentation of his medical insurance policy necessary to bill his insurance provider for EMS transport charges, and who assigns his insurance benefits for the same to the City shall not be billed for that portion of the EMS transport charges that is in excess of amounts paid by his insurer(s).”

    That statement supports what Ron W is saying. Billing is to an insurance company and no billing to individuals for any excess amounts. Ron W has also report that his person experience is the same.

    The Edmonds Fire Dept prepared a “White Paper” for the Mayor and Council dated Sept 12, 2008 that outlined in great detail all the supporting information that lead up to the Passage the Ord on Nov 14, 2008. Here is what is said about billing. “EMS Members” is defined earlier in the White Paper but includes an Edmonds Residence.

    “1.EMS Members. All bills are sent to the patient’s insurance carrier(s). EMS membership permits that portion of a transport bill not paid by a primary or secondary insurer, supplemental insurer, third-party insurer, Medicare, Medicaid, or any other insurance or medical benefits available to the member to be deemed as having been paid by the EMS property tax levy on owners of property in Edmonds.”

    Both references say the insurance company will be billed and the resident is not responsible for any payment not paid by the insurance company.

    The enabling RCW that covers a lot of good details has language that defines Emergency Medical Services. Lots of discussion of details of what is Basic Life Support and Advanced Life Support and many other details but the key definition to consider is this… “Emergency medical service” means medical treatment and care that may be rendered at the scene of any medical emergency OR while transporting any patient in an ambulance to an appropriate medical facility, including ambulance transportation between medical facilities.”

    Edmonds currently bills an insurance company for EMS only if the patient is transported. The bill for various levels of service from Basic Life support (nonivasive) and several levels of Advance Life Support (invasive). More complete details can be found in the minutes of the EDC. In addition to billing the EMS fees there is a fee for the actual ride to the hospital. The current rate is $15.50 per mile. So two things are billed to the insurance companies: The EMS fees and the Transport Fee.

    If you call 911 and EMS is performed at the scene and the person is not transported no charges are sent to anyone. The state law allows for these EMS fees to be charged even when no transport is provided.

    It is interesting to note that in the RCW, the fire dept white paper, and the ordinance itself, and in the all the discussion council had leading up to the charging for these services there is no mention of a tax. Ron W was on the council at that time and the only other council member at that time currently serving is Mr. Plunkett. Ron W and Mr. Plunkett did not oppose this ordinance. I have done a pretty complete research of city docs and cannot find an instance of the EMS charge ever being called a tax by anyone until recently. The charge is made only when a service is rendered it is not considered a tax.

    The word “tax” is always an inflammatory term. That’s why elected officials use the term “revenue” as a substitute for the word “tax”. So why would an elected official use the word “tax”? Only the person saying that a charge for service is a tax can answer that question. It is a little like yelling “fire” in a theater. In Schenck v. United States in 1919, Justice Holmes, writing for a unanimous Court wrote “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

    While saying a fee is a tax may not rise to the level of shouting “fire” in a theater using the word tax has started a panic among some folks. A local merchant who sits on the EDC reported that customers have come into his store knowing that he is on the EDC and have said they will not buy from him because the merchant supports a new “tax”. To the merchant that’s a panic. Our elected officials should take care to tell the truth at all times and not create a panic with the language they use.

  5. If we did not have the transport fee our taxes would have to be increased by about $60 to make up loss of the fees. Ron B if you would like a free lunch, I will buy. I will also tell you about my insurance that apparently has a much lower co pay than yours. I won’t make the same offer to Ron W, he will take me up on it. And if you or I ever have to use 911, God Forbid, you will have to pay the same as I will… ZERO!

  6. What a shame that the volunteer committee is not fully appreciated, and that there are still elected officials who lack the ability to think strategically. Hopefully, there is a growing majority who understand economic/community development are heavily associated with incentives and taxation programs that lead towards sustainability. My suggestion is to shift gears by getting rid of these non thinkers and get the leadership training Edmonds deserves.

  7. Ron B. I take your answer in 11 above to be a no for my lunch invite in 9 above?
    If the council extends the life of the EDC there will be 17 openings for new fresh ideas to help Edmonds. There is no pay, commissioners pay our own expenses, and donate not only the time for the monthly meeting but time for subcommittee work and for meeting preperations. The folks on the EDC are a diverse group of citizens who are truly trying to help Edmonds with the work. With all your good ideas I would hope you apply for one of the 17 openings. Lunch offer still open.

  8. My dictionary tells me that tax is “Money paid by people for the support of the governmwnt; money taken from people by their rulers.”

    So, how in the world would a fee placed upon 911 service NOT be a tax?

    Goverments do not create economic development, people do. Goverments can only assist by a maximum utilization of a hands off policy, or “Laissez faire”.

    Therefore the EDC should be dumped along with many of the unnecessary city rules and regulations which inhibit economic growth,

    Finally, all members of the EDC should be thanked and given appropriate recognition for their service. Perhaps this committee could better serve by being transplanted to the Chamber of Commeerce.

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