By Kathy Jefcoats
FOREST PARK — Fire Chief Eddie Buckholts told city council members Thursday night his department may have to increase base rate charges for ambulatory service to help cover costs.
Buckholts met with the council to discuss his budget proposal for 2013-2014. He said he is considering raising the base rate from $330 to closer to Medicare's reimbursement of $500. It could mean an increase of $100,000 to $150,000 from Medicare, he said.
"That increase is already factored into the budget proposal," he said.
Buckholts said that 20 to 25 percent of patients are self-pay but with Medicare or Medicaid patients, the reimbursement is guaranteed.
"We have a higher collection rate with Medicare patients because it's guaranteed money," he said. "We have a 52 percent collection rate where the average national rate is 46 percent."
Buckholts said he will also ask the council to buy a new fire engine, ambulance and staff vehicle this year.
"We still have a 1992 model," he said. "Our policy is to run them 20 years and then put them in reserve."
Mayor David Lockhart appeared to hold his breath when Buckholts told him the cost of a new engine is about $400,000 but exhaled when City Manager John Parker said the funds will come from SPLOST money. Parker previously told council members that the city expects about $3 million in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds to pour in this coming fiscal year.
"We'll pay for the new engine out of SPLOST," he said. "After we get the budget passed. Then I'll work on getting the prices down and see what he just has to have and go from there."
Buckholts heads a department of 72 personnel working out of three stations. His department boasts an ISO rating of 2 in a scale with 1 being best and 4 being least. The rating means lower fire insurance premiums for residents and businesses.
Public Works Director Mike Gippert presented his last budget. He gave notice of his retirement May 8, to be effective when the city finds a replacement.
His budget reflects a decrease of $100,000 to Waste Management Inc., because the costs for service were less than expected. Mayor Pro Tem Linda Lord asked how satisfied Gippert has been with the company's performance.
"Very satisfied," he said. "Other cities are copying our ordinances. Our sanitation department is probably the best-run in metro Atlanta."
However, he said residents have been slow to participate in the recycling program.
"Our tonnage is still low for recycling," he said. "There is nothing that needs to be changed in the ordinance, we just need public education. The less tonnage we have, the more money we have to go to recycling and that money goes to the city."
Gippert said 8 to 10 percent of residents participate but the number needs to be closer to 35 to 40 percent to make a big difference.
"We've got a long way to go," he said.
The proposed budget is posted on the city's website for public inspection and written comment. Residents can still ask council members about the proposal during a June 3 public hearing.