BY JOHN F. HILL | STAFF WRITER | Published: December 27, 2012; 08:56 PM |

A new fee for 911 medical calls in Murrieta that officials hope will stave off cuts to the city’s Fire Department will take effect next week.

Starting Jan. 1, Murrieta residents will have the option of paying an annual $48 fee or shelling out $350 each time they get emergency care from the city’s firefighter-paramedics.

Murrieta businesses also will have to pay. Their subscription fees are based on how many employees they have, and range from $75 to $300 per year.

Notices landed in the mailboxes of some residents this week, alerting those who didn’t know about the pending change.

The letter prompted resident Jerry Rounds to complain to Mayor Rick Gibbs.

“What’s next, a tax for calling the police when someone is robbing my home?” Rounds, 63, wrote in an email, which he also provided to The Press-Enterprise. “I pay more than my share of taxes to the government including a hefty property tax that is supposed to pay for police and fire protection.”

In a phone interview, Rounds said he wouldn’t sign up for the annual program.

‘What’s the

“What’s the tipping point here, where people just say, ‘Enough’s enough, you’ve got enough of our money,’” Rounds said.

The notice’s arrival to residents on Christmas Eve also rankled him, he said. Murrieta Fire Chief Matthew Shobert said he didn’t intend for the notices to reach residents during the holidays. The process of mailing 31,000 letters takes a few weeks and is difficult to time, he said.

He promised that residents would have enough time to sign up for the subscription before they have to pay the $350 fee. January will be a “soft launch” of the program, Shobert said.

Letters are now in the mail with instructions on how to sign up, he said.

The fee will bring in an “optimistically estimated” $400,000 per year, Shobert said.

That money will help the Fire Department, which has lost seven positions and seen firefighters take two pay cuts in the past five years, survive without more cuts, Shobert said.

“We just hope that we can get some breathing room with this program,” Shobert said.

Firefighters only

The new fee is for medical services rendered by Murrieta firefighters only. It does not cover the cost of an ambulance ride, for which the county’s private ambulance provider, American Medical Response, charges up to $1,174.

Shobert has pledged that the subscription fee won’t change how firefighters respond to emergencies. They won’t know who has signed up for the annual plan ahead of time, Shobert said.

Residents who don’t pay the fee can expect to get a call from the city’s collection agency for payment, Shobert said.

“We’re not just going to write it off,” the chief said. “Efforts will be made to collect.”

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