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Should city charge at-fault drivers?

The Sacramento City Council will decide later this month whether to bill at-fault drivers in collisions requiring an emergency response.

The city has released its draft ordinance for charging fees for emergency services. The fees for emergency responses would charged to all at-fault drivers, including residents and non-residents.

Fire Department responses to car wrecks would include a range of fees. On the low end, the city would charge $435 each time the department responds to an accident. A major wreck, meanwhile, could cost at least $2,000 in fees.

Council members are expected to discuss the ordinance at their Nov. 23 meeting, said special projects manager Mark Prestwich.

City staff has examined the issue for several months. An earlier version of the proposal would have only charged non-residents the fees. Residents were included in the proposed ordinance after City Attorney Eileen Teichert’s office said that focusing solely on non-residents might be deemed discriminatory, according to the city’s report on the ordinance.

Fire Capt. David Dolson noted the department is affected by the tough economy. He said the fees could help the department maintain current service and potentially cover additional levels of service.

“We’re at bare bones right now,” he said.

City Councilman Ray Tretheway indicated he may vote in favor of the ordinance later this month. “I think all of (the council members) are somewhat ambivalent, but also moving toward support,” he said.

Tretheway said he was thinking of the issue in terms of the city’s budget problems and “the need to recover our costs.”

Under the city’s proposal, a third-party billing service would contract with the city to handle the billing paperwork, according to Prestwich. The vendor would bill the at-fault driver’s insurance company for the fees, Prestwich said.

But the insurance industry is opposed to efforts by local governments to charge for fire recovery fees. Various local governments are viewing these emergency services fees as a way to improve their budget situations, argued Janine Gibford, assistant vice president for the American Insurance Association, an industry group with a West Coast office that covers California. This means they’re using insurance companies to help their budgets, she said.

“And we’re not there to fill the hole when the budgets get cut,” she said.

Read the proposed fire cost recovery ordinance here.

Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. 

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