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Gary ambulance services fees up 25%

Gary ambulance service prices see 25%-plus increase

Contributed By:The 411 News

Councilman Smith sounds off on Facebook 'crap'

Not only did the Gary City Council approve a whopping 25%-plus increase in user fees for ambulance services, the public at Tuesday night’s meeting witnessed the undersides of city government.

Those ambulance fee increases come at a time when the Freeman-Wilson administration is under attack for using ambulance revenues to make city payrolls and pay for other city expenses instead of what they were intended for – the maintenance and repair of the ambulance fleet. The mayor admitted the city had used $8-plus million of those ambulance fees since 2015 without the city council’s approval.

Ambulance charges are based on resident and non-resident statuses. For minor health issues, Gary residents will see the price change from $450 to $575. The cost for non-Gary residents will increase to $675.

For Gary residents, ambulance fees for advanced life support will go from $575 to $700. Non residents will pay $800 for advanced life support.

For ambulance services such as serious car accidents and cardiac arrest, Gary residents will now pay $800 and nonresidents will pay $900.

All ambulance users will see a per mile increase from $10 to $13.

Fees collected for ambulance services are deposited and withdrawals of those monies are recorded as Fund 224 in the city’s general accounting system.

The city council’s attempt to review Fund 224 began at the council’s prior meeting two weeks ago when the council approved a motion to subpoena the administration’s records on its use of the ambulance services fees.

Tuesday night, the council’s attorney Rinzer Williams asked the council to rescind the motion “because the council doesn’t have subpoena powers.” Atty. Williams said the council has to first request the records and “if the records are not received in a reasonable amount of time, then the council can submit a motion for a subpoena.”

Sixth District Councilwoman LaVetta Sparks-Wade, who proposed the motion at the previous council meeting, commented on the decision to rescind. “I would do it again.”

Last week, the council’s investigation committee announced it had received the administration’s records on Fund 224, without a subpoena, and would begin to review and formulate questions on the use of the funds.

Sparks-Wade is a member of the investigation committee, chaired by Councilman-at-Large Herb Smith. In April, Sparks-Wade found discrepancies in Fund 224 balances and has since used Facebook to help keep Fund 224 before the public.

The relationship between Smith and Sparks-Wade is quarrelsome at best. Tuesday night, Sparks-Wade opposed the fee increases, saying “This is not the time to raise fees in a fund where there has been misappropriation and the fund is under investigation.” She provoked Smith’s indignation when she stated, “There has been some talk about an ordinance that will change Fund 224 to go to expenses that are not Fire/EMS related.”

Smith responded, “What we’ve just heard is false. I attended the meetings on 224. We have discussed broadening Fund 224 to include fire. No one has talked about giving the rest of the city access to that money. This is just more grandstanding... I’m looking at Facebook now and all this crap trying to make it look like we’re stupid. I’m sick of it. What I’m going to do is start calling out these things when I see it.”

Freeman-Wilson has said she didn’t know about the fund withdrawals and ended up firing the city’s new controller and suspending the contract of former controller Celita Green to assist in the changeover. Green retired in February 2018. It was Sparks-Wade’s questions about Fund 224 that pushed the mayor to issue a report in August analyzing the city’s use of the funds since 2015.

The council’s investigation committee asked for all Fund 224 records going back to when Freeman-Wilson took office in 2012.

As one Facebook user commented, “LaVetta and Jamal won’t be satisfied until federal attorney Tom Kirsch raids city hall.” ‘Jamal’ is Lake County Councilman Jamal Washington, who, with Sparks-Wade hosts the Facebook page ‘The Real Deal in The Region.’

Story Posted:10/05/2018

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