COLUMN: New fees make wrecks even more painful

Jun 10, 2008

Florida Today--June 10, 2008

Cause a wreck, even a fender-bender, in West Melbourne or Cocoa and it will cost you hundreds of dollars in new fees charged by police and fire departments there.

Or, more likely, it will cost your insurance company. You can guess what that will do to your premiums.

And if you live in those cities, you’ll wind up paying twice for the emergency response: first through city taxes to operate the stations, emergency vehicles and personnel; then, through the fees.

The fees vary, based on equipment used, time spent on scene, and whether anyone died in the wreck.

For example, a serious crash in West Melbourne “with one incapacitating injury” will cost $321 in police fees approved last week, with the bill sent to the at-fault driver’s insurance company (and then the driver, if the insurer won’t pay).

A rear-ender in Cocoa that requires scene security and cleanup would cost $435 in fire department fees. A more serious crash requiring extrication with the “jaws of life” would cost $1,800. Helicopter? That’ll be $2,100 to stabilize the patient and clear a landing pad.

Collecting checks

“We’re realizing some checks from individuals and insurance companies,” Cocoa Fire Chief Francis Murphy said. “It’s still in the early stages.”

Both cities face a bind when it comes to responding to wrecks. Tens of thousands of drivers pour through them on U.S. 1 in Cocoa and U.S. 192 in West Melbourne, with out-of-town drivers doing the most damage. Yet, city taxpayers must foot the bill for everyone. That’s not fair, especially in a town like Cocoa, with so many low-income residents.

Still, how long do you think it will take for other Brevard County cities to copy such fees, pointing to State Road A1A or 50 as a drain and using the tax-revenue dip from Amendment 1 as political cover?

Since starting the fees in December, Cocoa has billed drivers and insurers $74,995 and collected $6,641 of that, Murphy said. It takes time for the bills to wind their way through the claims process, he said.

Murphy said the fire department wanted to exempt city taxpayers from the wreck fees. But the city attorney thought the fees must apply to all drivers, he said.

GOP blackout

Meanwhile, the county’s most persistent and prominent conservative voice suddenly can’t get any attention from the Brevard County Republican party.

Morning radio host Bill Mick of NewsTalk 1240, WMMB-AM, has hammered state party Chairman Jim Greer on the air for “anointing” favored candidates with early endorsements and blocking wide-open primaries involving other local Republicans. He also thought the state GOP erred with some of its negative radio and TV attacks on new Democrat state Rep. Tony Sasso of Cocoa Beach.

Mick has shown that independent streak at a time when fellow conservatives are questioning the party’s values and moderate direction.

Now he can’t get the Brevard Republican party or new Chairman John Anderson to respond to invitations to put someone on the air — even as local Democratic chief Amy Tidd regularly takes calls (and darts) from Mick’s conservative listeners.

“I am NOT asking any more,” Mick told me by e-mail. “Apparently they are not interested in responding to me or my contacts.”