Making due | Editorial

The City of Mercer Island’s handling of the budget is a long and arduous process. A set of Rubik’s cube-like constraints come attached. The city has made big steps not only this year, but in past years, of cutting expenses. The city is (sadly) but wisely letting go of nonessential programs such as arts, recreation and park improvements and other items. The city must contend with keeping their services at the highest standard while trimming costs and, at the same time, finding more sources of revenue.

The proposal to have city firefighters transport patients to local hospitals when it is prudent and have the city collect the revenue ordinarily paid to private insurance companies was inevitably controversial. There is a twofold concern: first that response time and patient health or emergency services might be compromised. Next, that Islanders may hesitate to call 911 for help if they worry about the bill. While there was pushback from the rank and file, Fire Chief Chris Tubbs, who has more than 30 years experience as a firefighter here on Mercer Island, assured the Council — by carefully reviewing the decision factors involved — that he and his professional staff could manage the added variable. Chief Tubbs is confident that public safety will not be harmed. We believe him. And any patient who cannot pay will not be charged. The city will bill private insurance companies only for those who have coverage. The city staff estimates the plan could bring in as much as $250,000 to $350,000, which ordinarily goes to private ambulance companies, each year. The Council voted to go with the transport plan on a one-year trial basis.

Yet the Council was hesitant to fully embrace the plan. Instead, they decided to set aside the months of work by city staff and go through the budget line by line to find other savings. The process was painful to witness. Led by Mike Cero and Mike Grady, the Council flailed away at everything from selling one of the three rescue boats to eliminating color printing. The Council debated whether or not it was necessary to update the rusting city Web site. It was not pretty to watch. What it seems to indicate is that the Council does not fully trust the work or management skills of city staff, or perhaps that only they know what it takes to balance the books.

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