DeLand leaders agree to charge nonresidents for accidents

Jun 4, 2008

News-Journal--June 03, 2008

Staff writer

DELAND — Out-of-towners take note: There’s another reason to avoid being at fault in an accident requiring police or fire response in the city limits.

You or your insurance company will be billed hundreds of dollars.

The DeLand City Commission made that policy official and agreed to a one-year contract with a billing company Monday to begin recouping city costs for providing emergency services at the scenes of accidents. Dozens of cities nationwide, including Longwood, Winter Park and Ocala, have already begun charging nonresidents fees for accidents for which they are at fault.

The commission votes came after lengthy discussion surrounding the concept — a new one to Volusia County communities — and the billing, which will be done by Ohio-based Cost Recovery Corp.

But only Commissioner Leigh Matusick cast any dissenting votes — against two resolutions enacting the fee schedule and the billing contract. She favored the ordinances that legalized the concept of accident fees.

City residents are exempt from accident fees, as they are presumed to have already paid for public safety services through city taxes.

Mayor Bob Apgar said less revenue is available to municipalities and noted DeLand has reduced its work force by 19 percent.

"In this environment, we’re being told to reduce (expenditures), but we’re being told by residents that police and fire should be cut last if at all," he said.

So the burden of paying for police and fire services falls squarely on city residents, even though officers and firefighters must respond to accidents that sometimes don’t involve city residents, proponents said.

Regina Moore, president of Cost Recovery Corp., told commissioners that 56 percent of insurance companies recognize the fees as legitimate and pay. If an insurance company refuses to pay, her company bills the individual who’s at fault, and 70 percent of them pay. The others get "dinged" on their credit, she said.

Moore likened the fees to emergency medical service bills, such as from EVAC. "It’s outside the scope of basic fire protection. It’s outside the scope of basic police protection," she said.

Fire department and police fees vary depending on the equipment and personnel involved and the length of the call. A 60-minute crash involving one fire rescue vehicle, one EMT and one firefighter costs $668, plus $203 in "station prep," or administrative costs that include Cost Recovery’s fees. A 30-minute police call involving one officer and one vehicle is $168 plus $76 in administrative costs.

Moore seemed to lose a vote of support when Matusick questioned her company’s fees. In the police resolution, they were listed at between $21 and $59. After she huddled with City Manager Mike Abels, the fees were updated to between $76 and $129. Matusick said she was concerned establishing the fees would raise DeLand residents’ auto insurance premiums, a charge Moore vehemently denied.

In an aside, Moore said she had met Monday with city officials from Daytona Beach. City officials in Port Orange have also been considering establishing police and fire response fees.

DeLand officials have estimated the fees could generate $300,000 annually for about 700 fire calls and 1,400 police calls.

Residents who are not at fault will not have to pay, an amendment to an earlier version of the ordinances that suggested they would have to split the cost.