City wants to bill them for problems they cause
By Ted Schnell • BocaJump | Nov. 1, 2011
Even as the Elgin City Council prepares to ratchet up its attempts to slash a budget deficit of as much as $13 million, it will be asked to approve a new set of fees intended to require nonresidents to repay the city for emergency services costs they use.
Just one week after it agreed to bump up fees and add mileage charges to calls for city ambulance services, the City Council will be asked during the Committee of the Whole meeting Wednesday, Nov. 2, to advance an ordinance establishing a new fee schedule for nonresidents making use of some emergency services.
The staff memo on the proposed ordinance states, “The cost recovery and mitigation rates provided in the proposed ordinance request will not be charged to any Elgin resident who maintains a permanent residence within the city limits or to a majority owner of a business that has property within the city.”
In other words, the “mitigation fees” are intended to recover from nonresidents the cost incurred when they are responsible for an emergency services call. But the ordinance itself does spell out exceptions in which even residents held responsible for an incident also could be billed. Those exceptions include DUIs, cleanup of hazardous materials, intentional or negligent acts, or any act in violation of local, state or federal laws, according to one of the ordinance’s final paragraphs.
City officials made clear this ordinance does not include calls made to other communities or jurisdictions such as the tollway under the city’s various mutual aid agreements.
Local taxpayers footing the bill
Elgin management analyst Aaron Cosentino said vehicle accidents or vehicle fires occurring on an Elgin street would be the most common examples of such incidents, which also could include hazardous material spills, crashes involving trains, airplanes or helicopters, pipeline .
The staff memo to the council on the item defends it as a viable option for municipalities experiencing a decline in revenues, as Elgin has. The memo states these mitigation fees are becoming more common to recover the costs from nonresidents, who do not pay local taxes and who, when using local emergency services, are being subsidized by Elgin taxpayers.
Under the proposed ordinance, motor vehicle incidents would be billed under one of five levels of service depending on the severity and services provided. Those fees would range from $435 for a simple accident to as much as $2,200 for a serious accident requiring the use of a helicopter to transport a patient.
A sixth level of fee — an itemized list — could be assessed of residents and nonresidents alike in unusual incidents, although the proposed ordinance does not indicate what such incidents might be.
Nonresidents causing a hazardous materials incident face much steeper rates of $700 for a basic spill response to $2,500 for an intermediate response. An advanced response to could start at $5,900, based on three hours at the scene. After the first three hours, the ordinance allows for a charge of $300 per hour per fire department hazardous materials team dispatched to the incident.
Pipeline and power line incidents would involve a fee of $400 for a basic response, $1,000 for an intermediate response and then allowance of itemized billing for large responses.
Several years ago, two contractors were electrocuted when they bumped into a power line while painting the Route 20 bridge over the Fox River in Elgin. Cosentino said the city absorbed the response costs to that incident. Under the ordinance, he said, the city would have been able to charge a mitigation fee to the contractors’ insurance company.
Nonresidents also would pay mitigation fees for fires and fire investigations, under the proposed ordinance. The cost would be $400 per hour for each fire engine on the scene and $500 per hour for each fire truck. If a fire investigation team is dispatched, the mitigation fee would be based on an hourly rate of $275.
Water incidents would include a flat rate and an hourly rate based on the type of response and number of personnel dispatched. The basic, intermediate and advance response fees would be $400, $800 and $2,000. In addition, charges of $50 per hour per rescue person would be tacked on to each of those. The ordinance also allows for an additional category for unusual incidents in which itemized billing would be warranted.
The ordinance also allows for mitigation fees for special rescues of at least $400 per response, plus $50 per hour per rescue person and an itemized listing for other costs tied to the rescue.
Lastly, the ordinance allows the city to charge an additional $250 per hour for those incidents requiring that the fire chief, assistant chief or a battalion chief be on the scene. Cosentino noted such incidents are rare — they could include a fatal crash or a hazardous materials incident, such as the white powder scare this spring at the 2nd Appellate Courthouse.
The mitigation fees would be billed to the individual’s insurance carrier, although the responsible party could be billed directly, the ordinance states.
Elevator alarms and ambulance fees
Also during its committee of the whole meeting, the City Council will be asked to advance an ordinance amendment adopting a state law that forbids the use of automatic fire alarm dialers in elevators.
During the regular City Council meeting, the council will be asked to approve an ordinance it voted unanimously to advance a week ago that will raise the city’s fees for ambulance service, including the addition of a $10 per mile transportation charge.
The ordinance last was revised 10 years ago, and the changes were proposed by Fire Chief John Fahy, who said the city is losing money with the fees being charged today.
Under the proposal, rates would change for the following:
Basic life support service would increase to $442.75 from $355 for residents, and to $692.75 from $444 for nonresidents.
Advanced life support 1 service would increase to $525.75 from $422 for residents, and to $900 from $528 for nonresidents.
Advanced life support 2 service would increase to $760 from $611 for residents, and to $1,135 from $764 for nonresidents.
A new fee would be added for those who refuse advance life support service. There has been no charge for that in the past. Under the proposal, residents would pay $300 after refusing the service a third time in a 12-month period; nonresidents would pay $400 after each refusal.Finally, residents and nonresidents alike would pay the $10 per mile.