DISTRICTS ‑- FIRE PROTECTION ‑- AMBULANCES ‑- FEES
Extent of and basis for fees which may be charged by a fire protection district for ambulance services under House Bill No. 62 (chapter 147, Laws of 1975, 1st Ex. Sess).
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May 21, 1975
Honorable Rod Chandler
State Representative, 45th District
Olympia, Washington 98504 Cite as: AGLO 1975 No. 52
By recent letter you have directed our attention to so much of House Bill No. 62, currently pending before the legislature, as would add the following new section to chapter 52.36 RCW.
"Any fire protection district which provides ambulance service pursuant to RCW 52.08.030, may pursuant to a resolution establish and collect charges for such services in order to reimburse the district for all costs of providing such service: PROVIDED, That any fire protection district which provides such ambulance service supported by an excess levy may waive such charges for service."
Assuming the enactment of the foregoing legislative proposal, you have asked for our opinion on the following two questions:
"1. Is it your opinion that a fire district opting to establish such a fee would have to apply such a fee uniformly or would it be possible to waive or adjust such a fee in certain cases?
"2. Could it be construed, given the language in this bill and other statute forbidding competition with private ambulance companies, that 'all costs of providing such service' means the cost of a private company to provide such service? In other words, could a private ambulance company force a fire district to adopt its schedule of fees for ambulance service?"
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]] We answer these questions in the manner set forth in our analysis.
In answer to your first question, it would be our opinion that any fire district determining to establish and collect charges for its ambulance service1/ would be required to impose the fee schedule thus established on a uniform basis throughout the entire district. The only authority which the proposal would grant to a fire protection district to waive its charges is that contained in the proviso which, as we read it, contemplates a waiver of all charges in the event that a particular district's ambulance service is supported by an excess levy.
This is not to say, however, that the fee schedule thus established by a particular fire protection district could not contain exemptions based upon a constitutionally permissible classification such, for example, as one involving the necessary support of the "poor and infirm." Accord, Article VIII, § 7 of our state constitution which, while generally prohibiting loans or gifts of municipal funds or property, expressly excludes from this prohibition those municipal expenditures which are made for the direct and necessary support of such needy individuals. See, our recent letter opinion of May 20, 1975, to State Senator Reuben Knoblauch, copy enclosed, dealing with the constitutionality of reduced rates for municipal services provided to senior citizens. However, as was pointed out in that opinion, a person may not constitutionally qualify for such public assistance solely on the basis of his age alone without regard, as well, to his economic status.
As far as your second question is concerned, it is our opinion that the phrase "all costs of providing such service" as contained in the subject legislative proposal means simply, the fire protection district's own costs. We can see no basis for reading the language of the proposal so as to allow a private ambulance company to force a fire district to adopt the private company's schedule of fees [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] for ambulance services.
It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/The apparent basis for this legislative proposal, we should note, is AGLO 1974 No. 4 [[to C. W. "Red" Buck, State Representative on January 9, 1974 an Informal Opinion, AIR-74504]], copy enclosed, in which this office concluded that without specific legislative authorization a fire protection district providing ambulance services may not charge a fee for those services.