By JULIANNE MATTERA
| Times Herald
Wreck your car, suffer a house fire — be misfortune’s favorite in most St. Clair County communities and your expenses don’t end with paying an insurance deductible.Of 32 municipalities contacted by the Times Herald, 26 have some form of what’s called a cost-recovery fee allowing them to charge to recoup costs for fire departments responding to fires, emergency responses and traffic crashes.
Some even charge for police response in certain instances.
Mark Bell, 26, of Marine City said people pay taxes for fire and police protection.
“I feel that it’s not right by any means especially if you pay your taxes,” he said.
Bill Worthen, 61, of Algonac agreed.
“It’s like a double taxation,” Worthen said.
But he said he understood where municipalities were coming from.
“Everybody’s scraping for money,” Worthen said. “They’re trying to get whatever they can.”
That’s the rationale behind most cost-recovery ordinances. Berlin Township Supervisor Bill Winn, for example, said the township had never considered such an ordinance — until a fatal single-vehicle crash in April 2011 sucked a “good sum of money” from the township’s funds.
He said 13 Berlin Township firefighters spent seven hours looking for a man missing from the crash scene on Belle River Road near Berville Road. The man they were looking for, a 22-year-old man from Allenton, had fled the scene.
Winn tried to recoup some of the costs, but learned the township needed a cost-recovery ordinance.
“Our fire department said it’s the worst accident they’ve ever seen,” Winn said. “That’s the reason we have a cost-recovery ordinance now.”
The township passed the ordinance in November. It specifically covers fees for crashes that are drug- or alcohol-related, Winn said.
Some municipalities use cost-recovery ordinances to fund fire departments. Others use it aso residents don’t wind up paying for fires and accidents vcaused by non-residents.
Still others enacted a cost-recovery ordinance to increase revenue needed to keep up with the rising cost of providing services.
Joe Thesing, assistant vice president for state affairs at the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, said municipalities in at least 27 states have considered or adopted accident response fee ordinances for police and/or fire response. There have been talks about the fees in 34 states.A total of 13 states have passed legislation prohibiting the collection of accident response fees. States where the practice is banned are Missouri, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, Utah, Arizona and Kansas.
Thesing said people in general don’t like accident response fees. Citing a Harris Interactive Poll, Thesing said the majority of Americans think their taxes should pay for the cost of public safety services provided by police and fire departments responding to vehicle crashes. The poll found 76% of adults believe additional accident response fees charged by local governments are not necessary.
“They believe the taxes they’re paying should cover these services,” Thesing said.
Michael LaFaive, director of fiscal policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, said the cost response fees could be good or bad depending on how they’re used by the municipality. He said the extra fees could be a “tax by another name” if police and fire serivces in municipalities are paid through by taxes already.
But he said the extra fees could be good if they thwart over-consumption of services.
Clay Township Clerk Lisa White said her township adopted a cost-recovery ordinance in July of 2010. The ordinance specifically deals with nonresidents, and mainly was because of the amount of resources the township dedicates to the annual Jobbie Nooner party on Lake St. Clair.
“We’re not trying to nickel and dime our citizens,” White said. “... It was really costing the taxpayers quite a bit to just do this one event that wasn’t even sanctioned.”
In Marine City, people charged with accident response fees must be involved in a vehicle crash or have an incident at their home more than once in the same calendar year, Assistant Fire Chief Richard Tucker said.
A China Township man who crashed into a telephone pole on Parker Street was not charged for the incident Wednesday. Tucker said that was because it was the man’s first vehicle crash in the city this year.
Contact Julianne Mattera Follow her on Twitter @jumattera.
Sherry Wood firstname.lastname@example.org 810.479.2223 www.hub911.com or @sherrywood