The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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January 9, 2013

Camanche cracks down on neglected ambulance bills

CAMANCHE — Residents who are not paying their ambulance bills will no longer be able to slip through the cracks if the city passes a new income offset program.

City officials have reported a persistant problem with ambulance bills going unpaid, leaving a total of $63,000 in bills unpaid over the past three years.

“I was shocked,” Fire Chief Dave Schutte said. “I thought we were doing well, until I saw the statement from the insurance company. We really need a way to target this group and hold them accountable.”

Prior to 2009, the city did not charge at all for ambulance service and it was funded entirely by property taxes. Insurance companies were getting by without paying for legitimate services and the taxpayers of Camanche were carrying the entire financial load.

“I was a proponent of charging for the ambulance services and I think it has been a positive decision for the community,” City Administrator Tom Roth said.

The proposed new program would target those who have adequate funds available and simply choose to neglect to pay the charges. There is already a system in place for those who are low-income or are unable to pay their bills. Those who qualify may set up a payment schedule to pay off their bill in whatever timely manner their income allows. The city also accepts assignment from Medicare and Medicaid.

“For every dollar that is billed and unpaid, every resident of Camanche has to pay a share of the lost revenue,” Roth said. “I think that’s reasonable when people simply can’t pay it, but I don’t think it’s fair when people just don’t pay their bills.”

The state of Iowa offers the income offset program to help levels of government collect monies that are due to them.

The city of Camanche currently uses this program to collect unpaid utility bills. Implementing income offset would also help the city avoid dealing with outside collection agencies.

“I like that this program is benign,” City Attorney Tom Lonergan said. “If you turn this over to a collection agency, you have a whole lot of other problems.”

Councilmen requested additional information from Schutte, including the percentage of unpaid bills that are from residents who would be held accountable with the new program. The discussion was tabled until the next meeting when the council receives the additional information.

“When we went from not charging at all to charging it was a big decision,” Councilwoman Linda Kramer said. “I want to make sure we have all the facts on the table first.”

Should the city of Camanche decide to use this program towards ambulance billing, residents will receive a disclosure at the time service is provided, or when a bill is sent, that the city may use the Income Offset Program to collect balances that are past due.

Camanche ambulance services bring in about $80,000 in revenue each year. The city budgets around $160,000 for the  ambulance services, which includes wages and new vehicles.

Other actions

· The council adopted an ordinance amending Title III, Community Protection, of the Camanche Municipal Code by adding a new chapter titled “Property Maintenance.”

This ordinance was brought forth to improve the community’s appearance. It outlines specific topics including rodents and vermin, accessory structures, protective treatment, foundation walls, exterior walls, roofs and drainage, broken windows and more.

In general the ordinance states that all structures, equipment and exterior property, whether occupied or vacant, shall be maintained in good repair and in structurally sound and sanitary condition as provided herein, so as not to cause or contribute to the creation of a blighted area or adversely affect the public health or safety.

A violation of the provisions established in the ordinance will constitute a municipal infraction or may be filed as a city nuisance.

· The council set a budget work session for 6 p.m. Jan. 29

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