Council votes to eliminate opt-out, Milleson objects

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The Pawhuska City Council on April 12 voted, 4-1, to eliminate an opt-out provision regarding a $4 monthly charge on municipal utility bills to help support the ambulance service.

At-Large Councilor Steve Tolson said the change would only affect residential utility customers.

Ward 4 Councilor Rodger Milleson objected to the change. He argued that refusing to allow persons living on very limited incomes to opt out of paying the $4 charge was an unjustifiable imposition.

”I don’t think we need to be raising anybody’s bill up,” Milleson said. He mentioned that some residents may be living on as little as $600-800 per month of Social Security money.

”Four dollars is a lot of money,” Milleson added, referring to the circumstances of residents with low incomes.

Supporters of the change countered Milleson’s objection by saying that paying the $4 a month actually protects residents with low incomes from being subject to being billed, or turned over to a collection agency or sued if their insurance doesn’t cover the entire cost of an ambulance ride in a time of emergency.

Pawhuska’s $4 charge is relatively low when compared to a $10 monthly charge that another Osage County municipality levies in support of ambulance service, supporters of the change added.

Milleson said his recollection of the ordinance as originally passed was that the $4 fee only provided financial protection for one ambulance ride per year.

Mayor Rodger Taylor said that making the $4 payments would entitle a resident to multiple ambulance rides in the event that he or she had more than one emergency medical situation.

Milleson contacted the Journal-Capital on the afternoon of April 14, and said he remained concerned the City Council might have made a flawed decision. Milleson said it was still his recollection that the ordinance that included the $4 monthly fee only entitled a resident to one cost-free ambulance ride to Pawhuska Hospital per year.

”I am not giving this up,” Milleson said. The City Council needs to revisit the issue, he said.

Milleson said the City Council’s decision to eliminate the opt-out language angered him.

”That’s what we’re up there on the Council for, is to best represent the citizens,” Milleson said. “There’s no way anybody should have voted for that.”

But vote for it they did. Taylor, along with Tolson, Ward 3 Councilor Mark Buchanan and Ward 2 Councilor Amber Nash, backed the elimination of the opt-out on the grounds that they were the ones actually protecting the interests of low-income elderly residents by shielding them from sudden and potentially overwhelming medical debt.

”It’s going to come out like I remember it,” Milleson said, insisting his recollection of the original ordinance was correct.