Plan altered for emergency fees

Written by Jessica Cejnar, The Triplicate January 25, 2013 01:22 pm

While supportive of charging for false alarms and 911 hang-ups, Crescent City Council members on Tuesday balked at fees for emergency response to traffic collisions and structure fires.

At the Council’s direction, City Attorney Bob Black will reconstruct a proposed ordinance enabling the city to set emergency response fees for false burglary and robbery alarms and 911 hang-ups. The revised ordinance and the companion resolution establishing a fee schedule will leave out fees for traffic collisions and structure fires.

The Council is expected to discuss the revised ordinance and resolution at its Feb. 4 meeting.

“I don’t support this resolution,” Councilwoman Kelly Schellong said of the original proposal. “I understand the city is having a very tough financial time right now with the economy and the Council has tasked the staff to come back to us with ways to increase revenues and cut expenses. I just don’t think this was the best way to find revenue.”

Black introduced the emergency response fee ordinance in November as a way of generating additional revenue for the city. At Tuesday’s public hearing, Black said voting on the ordinance would give the Council the authority to set the fees, but it would have to approve a resolution to set a fee schedule. The Council could then pick and choose what fees to charge and adjust the amounts, he said.

If the fees weren’t working out the way the Council wanted, it could later modify them, Black said. The original fee schedule included charging $423 for up to three hours of response from the Crescent City Volunteer Fire Department to a residential fire. It also would have established a fee of $101 for scene safety, assessment and the investigation of a traffic collision.

Similar to public input given at the Council’s Dec. 3 public hearing, nine residents expressed their approval of charging for emergency response to false alarms and 911 hang-ups. But they said imposing a fee on someone who suffered a structure fire or a car collision was, as county resident Calie Martin put it, adding “adding insult to injury.”

“This ordinance would affect all of us,” Martin said, adding that she owns property in the city. “Taxation and government should exist for the benefit of the people. I don’t know who thought about this, but it is adding injury and insult to people. Somebody is having an unfortunate situation and here they are being taxed.”

City resident Richard Miles and county resident Tonya Pearcey questioned the need to send more than one piece of equipment on a medical aid call.

“Every time I see a medical emergency most of the time I see a ladder truck with one person in it,” Miles said. “That’s not cost-effective. If the city Fire Department had a small pickup with emergency gear in it to assist what I call the fat-lady calls, I wouldn’t have any problem with that, but when you’re going to charge when somebody’s house burns down, that’s wrong.”

After city staff responded in the Council’s staff report to Bill Lonsdale’s letter, which posed several questions including if the ordinance is applicable to those living in the county and what happens if renters’ or property insurance does not cover the city’s fees, the city resident said some of his fears were allayed. 

But there were gray areas the Council should consider before finalizing the ordinance, Lonsdale said. These included whether fees would be assessed if the city is on a mutual aid call to the county or if city assets are used for events outside city limits.

Lonsdale added that he was dismayed at the idea of the Council turning citizens over to the tender mercy of collection agencies.

“The way things are drafted now, one could be charged for water even if Crescent City Fire doesn’t participate in extinguishing the fire,” he said. “The other question has to do with people from out of the area. (Take) a person from Alberta whose car is burglarized in the Safeway parking lot. What’s the solution to that problem? Are you going to pursue them to the international court or what?”

Mayor Rich Enea noted the proposed fee schedule included two warnings for false alarms and 911 hang-ups. Calls for perceived emergencies would not be considered false calls, he said.

Enea also pointed out that the state’s fine for a false 911 call is $1,000, compared to Crescent City’s proposed fee of $100. Legislators are also considering increasing the fine to $10,000 as well as holding those who make a false 911 at fault if their call causes the police or fire department to get into a vehicle collision, Enea said.

“If that call is false intentionally and it causes the police or fire department to get into an accident and injure someone, the person who made that call will be liable for the injuries and may receive state prison time,” he said. “If they kill someone, it’s involuntary manslaughter.”

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