Denison Fire Rescue is going to start billing for fire services following an ordinance that was passed Monday night. Denison joins a growing number of cities seeking to recover fees from the services rendered that goes beyond the cost of every day service.
Denison Fire Chief Gregg Loyd said the city intends to bill insurance companies not residents directly in an effort to recover rising costs associated with some of the services it provides. The closest city with a similar program is Bonham.
“There are fires with multiple units responding, multiple agencies responding,” Loyd said. “The tax dollars cover a basic service. When it gets beyond that there isn’t a mechanism to cover that cost. It has gotten a whole lot more expensive. This is avenue by which to cost shift over to the insurance company to recuperate that so we don’t have to worry about raising taxes, all those kinds of things. It is a user fee instead of a shotgun blats with regards to a tax issue.”
Loyd said it is becoming more common for cities to bill for these services. Bonham Fire Department Chief Scott Ridling said his city recently implemented a similar service as Denison and said his department’s fees were comparable to what Denison set.
“It is a money making thing,” Ridling said. “I say that they are tax payer dollars that fund our operation but there are more services we can provide if we had the money. Should we spread that to our tax payers or charge the people who used the service? It makes more sense to charge the ones who use the service versus everyone. If you are in a car wreck, you already are already going to have a claim. If you hit another car, you are already filing a claim. We’re just taking advantage of the insurance you are already paying for.”
Ridling said Bonham is not billing residents directly only insurance companies. He said the program is too new to tell what would happen if an insurance company denied a claim as that hasn’t happened yet. Bonham implemented its program on Jan. 9 this year. Ridling said the city used to have a similar service fee in place many years ago but discontinued it when the billing company went out of business.
“Our intent is not to make it a money maker but a money recovery beyond what is normally covered through the tax dollar,” Loyd said. “If we do that, honestly there probably isn’t going to be a reduction in taxes because we’re still going to need to provide that main service. This is over and beyond that. This covers our ability not to raise taxes.”
Denison City Manager Jud Rex said the city is responsible for the health, welfare and safety of the community and this will help ensure the continues to be able to provide the same level of fire service. He said the city already charges for emergency calls involving an ambulance the new ordinance extends that to the fire side of the department too.,
“You have automobile insurance, home owners insurance that has coverage that will pay for the things we respond to,” Rex said. “Really that is all the ordinance does is open the door for us to recover those costs if there is insurance coverage in place.”
Rex said the city responds to a number of calls on U.S. Highway 75 that involves non-residents who do not pay city taxes. He said with the recent changes to the property tax rules the city is limited by the state in how it can increase property taxes. He said this new program is a way to offset some of those costs without placing an additional burden on the tax payers.
According to the ordinance the fire department will bill between $487 up to $677 for vehicle accidents just for the response. That doesn’t include an additional $1,461 in case of extrication or the $448 for creating a landing zone in the event of a helicopter is called to the scene.
If a hazardous materials are involved there could be additional charges ranging from $784 up to $6,608. If the HAZMAT team takes longer than three hours to clean up the mess they can charge $336 per hour per HAZMAT team.
No matter the call the department could bill $448 per hour for an engine, $560 per hour for a truck and $336 for miscellaneous equipment.
The department could also charge a first responder fee of $350 per incident as well as well as $308 per hour for fire investigation. A chief response fee of $280 per hour could be added for set-up and command for an incident.
Another instance that could trigger a bill is when an illegal fire takes place for example when a permit is required but not properly obtained.
The city will provide itemized bills for each statement issued. Under the heading optional the ordinance authorizes the department to bill each fire as an independent event with custom mitigation rates that can be itemized per person and for products used.
Rex said the ordinance went into effect immediately once it was passed by the council. He said the city has some administrative stuff to work out but he expects the new charges to go into effect as soon as possible.
“The main point residents can be assure is we’re not going to shake them down for money when we have to respond to their property,” Rex said. “This is about helping the city recover costs associated from insurance that is already in place. That is what it is all about.”