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Riverhead considers charging fees for accident-related services

Riverhead Town Hall on May 23, 2013.

Riverhead Town Hall on May 23, 2013. Photo Credit: Newsday

Riverhead is considering charging people involved in auto accidents for ambulance services -- a practice used by only one other volunteer ambulance company in Suffolk County, officials said.

The town board discussed the idea at a meeting Thursday. Councilman John Dunleavy said fees from the roughly 1,000 accidents in town each year could raise $400,000 for the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps, a nonprofit organization that contracts with the town to provide emergency services.

"We want the insurance companies to help the taxpayers pay for ambulance services," Dunleavy said in an interview.

The Riverhead ambulance company's $1.4 million budget is currently funded almost entirely through taxes.

Port Jefferson Volunteer Ambulance is the only volunteer ambulance company in the county to bill for services, a practice that is common elsewhere in New York State, said Robert Stoessel, executive director of the Port Jefferson corps.

"This is not a foreign thing," he said. "We're not trailblazing here. This is just something that never happened in Suffolk County."

Stoessel said his company began billing for all calls, including auto accidents, in 2011. There is a $900 charge for basic care, $1,200 for advanced care and $18 per mile of transport.

Health or auto insurance usually covers the fees, he said, and the company does not aggressively try to collect from people unable to pay.

The charges raise about $200,000 a year for the villages of Port Jefferson and Belle Terre, where officials have approved the fees, Stoessel said.

The fees do not apply in unincorporated parts of Brookhaven Town.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said charging for accidents could allow his town's ambulance company to hire an executive director, buy a new ambulance and expand its parking facility.

Riverhead ambulance officials could not be reached for comment Thursday. Riverhead Town officials said ambulance company leaders are receptive to the idea of charging, but asked that the fees be limited to auto accidents.

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