City of Bradenton may charge for traffic accidents

Feb 12, 2009

Bradenton Herald--February 12, 2009


BRADENTON – In the future, you may receive a bill for a service fee when Bradenton Police have to direct traffic because you caused a vehicle crash.

The City Council on Wednesday tentatively approved unanimously an ordinance that would allow the police and fire departments to charge the responsible, or “at-fault,” driver for services.

“This is getting more popular in other communities and is being very effective,” said Deputy Police Chief Bill Tokajar. “It helps alleviate the loss of funds.”

City Clerk Carl Callahan said Police Chief Michael Radzilowski estimated Bradenton could collect as much as $100,000 a year in fees.

Several Florida counties and cities already use similar service-recovery-fee ordinances, including Sumter and Escambia counties and the cities of Belleview, Ocala, Winter Park and Chiefland.

“We’ve had it going on our third year,” said Chiefland Police Chief Robert Douglas, “and I love it.”

Douglas said his officers answer about 30 traffic crash calls a month in Chiefland, a small town about 40 miles northwest of Ocala on U.S. 19, and spend a couple of hours on each incident, including writing reports.

If his officers did not write the report, an insurance company would have to send someone to do the report.

The police department uses a collection firm to send out the bills and receives fees from about five to eight crashes a month, Douglas said.

“When we first started, we had a few complaints from the public,” he said, “but I would tell them that it was a voluntary user fee.”

The chief said his city of about 2,100 receives about $10,000 a year that he uses for emergency items, such as patrol car repairs.

Deputy Chief Rodney Smith of the Ocala Police Department said his city has taken about $100,000 since they instituted the program about a year ago.

“We’re not doing bad for something that doesn’t have a lot of teeth,” Smith said.

He said the city commission was looking to make some changes, because now it only affects non-residents and the board feels that may be challenged in court.

Smith said the police department handles about 320 crashes a month.

Bradenton Councilman Bemis Smith had reservations about the ordinance.

After the meeting Wednesday, Smith said he generally looks at anything that would cost the taxpayers.

“You can call them fees,” he said, “but they end up costing people money.”

The city council will hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance at 6 p.m. Feb. 25.

In other actions Wednesday, the city council approved the annexation of about 50 acres at State Road 64 and Morgan Johnson Road.

According to attorney Caleb Grimes, who represented the property owners at the meeting, preliminary plans call for commercial businesses on the property fronting State Road 64 and an assisted living facility and hotel on the remainder of the site.

The property owners still have to go through the rezoning and comprehensive plan amendment process.