Cause an at-fault vehicle accident that’s beyond a fender bender in Manteca in the future and you might get a bill for the fire department’s response.
It is among the ways that Manteca leaders could bridge an $11.3 million budget deficit in the fiscal year starting July 1.
Fire Chief Chris Haas outlined potential ways his department could recoup the cost of providing services including charging for plan checks involving fire protection systems as well as state mandated annual inspections for things ranging from storage of hazardous waste to spray booths.
Haas indicated that the cost recovery of emergency services — fire, hazardous spills, and vehicle accidents — may well end up on the list of last resort for the Manteca City Council to consider imposing when it comes to find ways to cover the looming deficit. He indicated, though, he’d at least like to see the city put in place a policy that allows Manteca to bill insurance companies of at-fault drivers in accidents on the Highway 120 Bypass and Highway 99 freeways.
“Most of the people involved in accidents on the 120 Bypass and Highway 99 aren’t Manteca residents,” Haas said.
A large potion of the accidents the fire department responds to are on the freeways. It is not uncommon for fire districts or cities with fire departments to charge for responses to freeway or highway accidents within their jurisdiction.
A firm that specializes in emergency response billing has estimated Manteca could recoup over $72,000 a year from billable incidents. That is based on 217 incidents the firm was able to track during the 2006-07 fiscal year. The fire department in 2005 handled 3,564 calls including 2,580 medical emergencies (including injury accidents), 56 vehicle fires, 74 structure fires, 126 other fires and 733 other emergencies (including hazardous spills and non-injury accidents).
Haas said the type of incidents that would be billable include structure fires where the homeowner was at fault, more serious vehicle accidents with injuries where there is an at-fault driver, and hazardous spill calls. Medical calls aren’t being considered for billing.
The type of fires that would fall into the “at-fault” category includes someone who may have taken ashes from a fireplace that were still warm, placed them in a bag inside a Toter that ultimately caught on fire and spread to an adjoining structure. Another example is a man who started a house fire when he was welding on his bed a few years ago or things such as fires started by candles or cigarettes.
Realistically, the biggest source of recouping costs is commercial and retail fire protection system and plan check inspections.
Manteca is the only city in the area that doesn’t charge for such inspections that essentially recoups staff time to make sure installations comply to state fire codes. Even jurisdictions that are smaller — Ripon and Lathrop — charge the fees.
Costco had a fire pump, four risers, and 1,377 sprinklers as part of their fire protection system. Such an installation in Stockton would have triggered charges of around $16,000 so that city could recoup their costs. Bass Pro Shops, JC Penney, and Kerasotes Showplace 16 Cinema were similar in size. By not having a policy in place to recoup costs, Manteca lost an opportunity to retrieve at least $60,000 plus for just those four projects alone in what businesses have come to accept are legitimate billings by cities where they locate.
Other cities also charge for plan checks — the review of the mechanical and construction drawings.
The Community Development Department is proposing similar fees. It has been recommended by staff if plan check fees are imposed that they are put into place gradually going from a set percentage of the actual cost at first to full recovery over a period of a year or so.
City Manager Steve Pinkerton has indicated that if all of the cost saving moves in place and strategies being discussed are implemented, then the city will at least cover half of the projected $11.3 million deficit.