LOMA LINDA - Councilman Robert Ziprick is proposing changes to soften the impact of a new program that charges people who receive emergency medical services from the Fire Department. The so-called "fire medical" program, which was launched March 1, charges residents $300 each time they call 9-1-1 and get medical assistance from city firefighters. Non-residents are charged $400 per response.
Alternatively, residents can sign up for a $48 annual membership and not get billed for the service, while non-residents can pay $60 for a yearly subscription.
Ziprick, who is seeking re-election in June, voted in favor of the program last year but says it needs some "fine tuning."
"I've had people say to me, `I don't want to go to Loma Linda because of the new fee,"' Ziprick said.
He proposes a one-time free use of the service to help people struggling in a tough economy.
Ziprick also supports looking into whether it is legally possible to waive the subscriber fee for people whose health insurance covers the service.
The City Council is expected to discuss the issue on Tuesday.
Ziprick presented his ideas at a council meeting last month. Based on the rough outline of Ziprick's proposal, Fire Chief Jeff Bender said the changes probably would cut revenues generated by the program by more than half.
A 2008 study anticipated the program would generate about $262,000 a year for the city.
Councilman Ovidiu Popescu criticized Ziprick's recommendations. "He voted for it and now close to an election is proposing changes that would considerably gut the program," Popescu said.
Ziprick said he started asking questions about the program when it was first brought up more than a year ago.
"I would like the best service to the public at the least cost," he said. "I don't think that warrants an all-out attack from a colleague who is not even running for election."
Officials say the city only gets 11 cents out of every dollar it receives in property taxes. At one time, that covered basic first aid and fire services.
In 2000, the council voted to provide enhanced medical services through the Fire Department, but it didn't create a funding source for the upgraded care.
Bender said that 477 residents and businesses have signed up for the new program.
The overall reaction has been positive, he said.
"Once we educate people and they understand all the details, they're receptive," Bender said.

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