Motorists cited for speeding or another traffic offense could soon find themselves being forced to chip in to help support local ambulance service.
Newark City Council is weighing a proposal to add a $10 ambulance fee onto all traffic tickets that are processed as guilty in Alderman’s Court. That includes people who plead guilty, take probation before judgment or are found guilty by the alderman.
Officials estimate the fee would raise $40,000 per year for the cash-strapped Aetna Hose, Hook and Ladder Company.
Since 2014, the state has levied a $10 ambulance fee on all tickets processed in Justice of the Peace courts, but because Newark’s citations are handled in Alderman’s Court, the fee must be authorized separately. The town of Laurel, which also has an Alderman’s Court, already mirrors the state’s fee.
Newark officials began considering the fee as part of an effort to find new ways to help Aetna. The volunteer department has an annual budget of $4.5 million, but less than 30 percent comes from government sources. The rest comes from donations, fundraisers and insurance billing.
Facing increasing expenses, stagnant revenues, an increase in ambulance calls and a shortage of volunteers, Aetna’s leaders have for several years asked Newark to increase their contribution to the department. In 2017, council considered a monthly $1 “fire protection surcharge” on city water bills, but that proposal never moved forward.
The city currently provides Aetna $230,000 in financial contributions and free utilities.
“Every dollar we get is helpful,” Aetna President Dan Seador said. “We are being squeezed a number of ways at this point, and any additional support we get from the city would be appreciated.”
The state’s ambulance fee has been a help to Aetna, Seador said.
“It enabled us to continue to provide the level of service that we’ve been wanting to continue to provide and, of course, that the community expects. It has been a godsend to us,” he said. “I really quite honestly did not realize at the time that the municipality of Newark was not included in that program when they instituted it, so additional help from the city of Newark obviously would be very much appreciated.”
Mayor Jerry Clifton and all six council members informally signaled their support for the fee Monday, but the ordinance will be officially voted on at a later date. However, Councilman Chris Hamilton asked that the final ordinance allow for judicial discretion in the case of defendants who have financial difficulties.
Supporting Aetna is important, Clifton said.
“What they do with the money is nothing short of amazing,” he said. “You don’t want to hear the numbers required to have a full-time [paid] fire department like Wilmington has. Anything we can do to creatively get more money into that funnel for Aetna is just a wonderful thing.”