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MoCo Emergency Response Times Down, Without Fees

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Response times for Montgomery County emergency calls have gone down during the past few years, but local lawmakers disagree over what that means for potential ambulance fees.
Response times for Montgomery County emergency calls have gone down during the past few years, but local lawmakers disagree over what that means for potential ambulance fees.

It was more than a year ago that voters in Montgomery County rejected ambulance user fees, but that hasn't stopped local lawmakers from sniping over the issue.

Response times by fire and rescue services in the county are going down, as are deaths from fires. In 2007, there were 10 fire-related deaths; last year, there was just one. New staffing procedures and an increase in the number of fire stations have received the credit for the improvements.

But County Executive Isiah Leggett argues those numbers would be even better if the controversial ambulance fees were charged like in all other jurisdictions in the D.C. region. Montgomery County voters rejected the fees by a margin of 54-46 percent when they were on the ballot in November of 2010.

Council member Phil Andrews, the staunchest opponent of the fees on the Montgomery County Council, disputes claims that money raised by the fees would have helped. In addition, Andrews contends the fees may have stopped people from calling 911 in non-urgent situations.

"It doesn't necessarily follow that any money that would have come in from the fees would have gone to expanding service," Andrews says. "It could have gone to pay increases and benefit costs."

Rather than focus on what the fees could have done, Andrews sees the better emergency response numbers as an argument for why they're not necessary. "The good news is that the fire and rescue response continues to improve," he says. "And we have been able to do that without an ambulance fee, which is the best way to do it."

A spokesman for Leggett calls Andrews' comments "off-base", saying it's inconceivable that service would not have gotten better if more money was dedicated to it. 

Still, the county executive has no plans at this time to propose the fees again, the spokesman adds.

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