A plan sought by Oakdale Mayor Pat Paul to dispel severe budget cuts to public safety by charging outside area motorists costs of the fire department for responding to accidents and car fires may progress as a way to generate much needed funds to city coffers.
The mayor, speaking at the June 3 city council meeting, said there were few other palatable options for the financially strapped city that is facing the challenge of doing more work with fewer resources.
“It’s being done my other cities in the area and I think we should look at it too,” said Paul. “It happened to my husband in San Francisco.”
In the latest efforts to close the gaps in public budgets, an increasing number of California cities with their tight budgets and revenue shortfalls are ripping holes in the fabric of how local public safety agencies respond to incidents.
More than 84 municipalities and fire districts, including Stockton, Modesto, and Manteca, now charge motorists who were involved in auto accidents that require the fire department to respond to the scene. Even Oakdale Rural Fire Department has an “Emergency Response Fee.” Many more municipalities in the area are considering adopting similar resolutions.
Last year the department answered 140 calls for vehicle accidents and 105 were for accidents with injuries. There were 32 responses that involved car fires. If the department billed for all 140 accidents, at the going average of $500 each, it would amount to an extra $70,000 in income.
“It’s something we should really look at,” Paul later said in an interview. “It’s a revenue stream.”
That fire department response fee however does not gauge the severity of the response which might be for a high-level emergency rescue or putting out a fire with foam or simply just putting down absorbent for leaked fluid. Of the 84, some charge anyone involved in a crash and many levy a fee only on nonresidents who have the bad luck to be in an accident in such inhospitable locales.
Those bills can be large and the revenue could quickly soar with “add-ons” some cities charge. A survey of California cities with the “crash tax” showed a simple response to an accident usually costs $500 but that base fee can rapidly rise.
In Folsom, if a fire chief shows up at your accident, it'll cost an extra $200 an hour. Need the Jaws of Life rescue in Sacramento? Add $1,875. In Chico, going into a ditch could cost as much as your car, because a complex rescue goes for $2,000 an hour, plus $50 per hour for each rescue worker involved. If your incident requires a hazmat team your bill will have another $100 per hour per team member. In San Francisco, as Mayor Paul described, an ambulance ride will cost $1,642 under their ordinance.
For the entire story, look to the July 3 edition of The Leader.