From “Protect and Serve” to “Serve and Charge”

With the current financial crisis more local governments are finding their budgets strained to the max. In some cases, raising taxes (again and again) is not a viable option. Given that these local bureaucrats, like the ones in Washington, are fiscally irresponsible spendocrats, they see this as a revenue problem when the real issue is overspending. With no consideration for spending cuts, their only recourse is to raise revenues – in any way they can. Usually they do this by collecting “fees” on basic services – like you don’t already pay enough for these things. Here in Jacksonville we’ve seen a whole slew of new government “fees” in the past few years – stormwater fees, garbage collection fees, utility surcharges, and recycling fees. Everything has gone up except my paycheck, of course.

Police and Fire protection are the core responsibilities of local government – and likely they represent the biggest slice of the budget pie. With support, administrative, facilities and equipment costs figured in, Fire and Police services can be quite expensive. Many police and fire departments are unionized so cost reduction doesn’t come easy. In an effort to cut expenses, some local police agencies have stopped responding to certain crimes like property crimes and traffic accidents. (previous post here) Other local governments have taken the revenue increase approach by charging per incident fees for police and fire services. (story here from the NY Times)

ABOUT a year ago Cary Feldman was surprised to find himself sprawled on the pavement in an intersection in Chicago Heights, Ill., having been knocked off his motor scooter by the car behind him. Five months later he got another surprise: a bill from the fire department for responding to the scene of the accident.

“I had no idea what the fire truck was there for,” said Mr. Feldman, of nearby Matteson. “It came, it looked and it left. I was not hurt badly. I had scratches and bruises. I did not go to the hospital.”

Mr. Feldman had become enmeshed in what appears to be a nascent budget-balancing trend in municipal government: police and fire departments have begun to charge accident victims as a way to offset budget cuts.

Ambulance charges have long been common and are usually paid by health insurance, but fees for other responders are relatively new. The charge is variously called a “crash tax” or “resource recovery,” depending on one’s point of view. In either case, motorists are billed for services they may have thought were covered by taxpayers.

Sometimes the victim’s insurer pays. But if it declines, motorists may face threats from a collection agency if they don’t pay.

Mr. Feldman received a bill for $200. The Chicago Heights Fire Department told him the fire truck had responded in case there was a fire at the scene.But Mr. Feldman, 71, had another question: “Why are you charging me? I didn’t do anything wrong. Charge the other guy.”

Neither Mr. Feldman’s insurance company, nor that of the man who struck him, would pay. Mr. Feldman finally paid the bill with some of the money he received from the insurance company of the person who hit him.

“This is my personal opinion: it is a rip-off and a scam,” he said.

The rest of the article describes the battle between local governments and their collection services, and insurance companies. Municipalities in at least 26 states have instituted this onerous practice.

This is pure bullshit. Local spendocrats would rather squeeze more out of the citizen than face up to the police and fire unions.

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