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Fee Urged for Rescues With Sheriff's Copter : Budgets: A charge of up to $1,500 would help offset costs of the county air ambulance. The proposal will be examined at a public hearing Sept. 3.

August 05, 1992|AMY PYLE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Anyone rescued by a sheriff's air ambulance could be charged as much as $1,500 to help balance the Los Angeles County budget under a proposal that will be the topic of a Sept. 3 public hearing.

The County Board of Supervisors had earlier decided to postpone a decision on the fees until budget hearings resume Sept. 15. But Chief Administrative Officer Richard B. Dixon recommended Tuesday that a hearing be held before then so that public opinion will be a factor when the board makes its budget decisions.

The sheriff's Air 5 helicopter--which performs the most challenging mountain rescues and more routine air ambulance services for the Antelope Valley--costs about $1.6 million a year to staff and operate. It was among the many cuts proposed in the lean 1992-93 budget.

Under the fee plan, the cost of operating the helicopter would be partially offset by charging those rescued by helicopter about $1,500. County officials estimate that if only half of the 429 people rescued in 1991-92 had paid such a fee, more than $300,000 would have been raised.

In addition, about $600,000 in private donations and grants for Air 5 have been received, which combined with the fees would allow the program to operate part time--over the critical weekends and two other days a week.

Dixon also proposed charging a $3 daily parking fee at the county's 19 nature parks and selling a $23 annual pass for users of 330 miles of county horse and hiking trails. The proposals will also be discussed at the Sept. 3 hearing.

The trails and parks were slated to lose their staffs and maintenance funds in this year's budget for the second year in a row.

The fees would be expected to raise less than 20% of the $1.2 million it costs to operate the parks and trails, with the remainder of the cost coming through the use of more volunteers, delays in maintenance and the transfer of money from other county funds.

The parking fee could be charged at nature areas in Devils Punchbowl Park in Pearblossom, Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve-Park east of Lancaster, Placerita Canyon State Park in Newhall, Tapia County Park in Calabasas and Vasquez Rocks Park in Saugus.

The 19 areas, which together encompass 6,000 acres, range from undeveloped sanctuaries to formal nature centers featuring Indian archeological or live animal exhibits. Volunteers estimate that the areas attracted more than 1 million people last year, many of them children on school field trips.

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