City moves on fees for services
Officials say individuals will not be directly charged.
By JOHN W GOODWIN, JR.
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
GIRARD -- The face of a police officer or firefighter in times of emergency is a common sight, but city officials may soon start charging additional fees to see those faces.
City council gave first reading Monday to an ordinance that would establish user fees for police officers and firefighters called out for accidents, structural fires and hazardous material spills.
Mayor James Melfi said implementing the fees for services is a means of recouping some of the cost the city spends on those services.
"We are looking to cut costs, which will result in more cost-efficient government," he said. "Police and fire have some of highest cost in the city for service overhead."
Officials said calls for service to the two departments has steadily risen in the last few years. Police Chief Frank Bigowsky said the police department has answered about 900 calls per month in the last three months -- a figure significantly higher than at the same time last year, he said.
"We are handling more calls for service with [fewer officers]," he said.
No property tax increase
City officials decided not to raise property taxes to handle the increase in service demands because it would not be fair to residents.
Most traffic-accident calls are made by those who do not own property in the city.
Bigowsky said those requesting services don't have to worry about paying the fees because the fees will be billed to their insurance company.
He said insurance companies cannot raise rates because the fees are already rolled into the policy amount.
"You are paying your insurance company for this service. The insurance company is getting our services for free. If we didn't do it, they would have to hire an investigator to do it," he said. "This is not costing the taxpayer a dime."
The city will partner with Cost Recovery Corp. of Dayton to recover the fees. Bigowsky said the company will handle all paperwork, assess insurance companies the fees and do all follow-up work. Cost Recovery, he said, will charge a fee to the insurance company for the city and another fee for its services.
According to information supplied by Cost Recovery, if the insurance company refuses to pay, the charges are written off. The city administration, however, can request collection action against the individual responsible for the accident.
According to a price list provided to the city from the company, fees for one officer at an accident for 30 minutes will range from $189 to $214. Those fees increase with additional officers or added police services.
Cost Recovery's list for firefighter fees can range from $587 to $618 for 15 minutes of service. Those costs also increase with additional firefighters and services.
According to the company information, any call for police is billed a minimum 30 minutes and any call for firefighters will be billed a minimum of 15 minutes.
The proposed ordinance calls for all fees generated to go into a fund specifically for personnel, supplies and equipment for the police and fire departments.
Bigowsky estimates the police department will recoup an average of $120 to $150 per claim. He said the department will generate between $25,000 and $50,000 annually. The fire department, he said, will also generate funds independent of the police department.