(From 25 News) – You could soon pay a fee for emergency services in Peoria if the City Council approves a proposed ordinance.
Those fees would be imposed by the fire department as a way to regain money spent on several services that fall outside of what is covered by tax dollars.
The Peoria City Council get a first look at the Fire Recovery Ordinance Tuesday. A formal vote is expected during the Feb. 26 meeting.
For every $1 spent in Peoria, the City keeps 12 cents. The fire department, specifically, gets only cents…3.75 cents to be exact.
Peoria Fire Chief Ed Olehy, along with several city leaders say that amount is simply not enough to continue running an efficient operation.
Olehy explains it costs roughly $19 million annually to run the department and as it stands now, the city budget just cannot keep up.
“On a $1,000 tax bill, we’re getting $37 dollars, which is not a lot,” Olehy said.
City taxes cover several emergencies, including house fires, but there is currently no charge for medical calls, which make up a large portion of emergency dispatches.
The propsed “Mitigation Rates” would bridge the financial gap, estimiated to recoup roughly $200,000 each year.
Those rates are broken down into levels or categories, associated with motor vehicle accidents. They include fluid based accidents, non fluid based accidents, vehicle fires and vehicle extrication to name a few, but makes clear, the fees will not be directed at or added onto fire responses.
The fees are billed to whomever is found at fault for an accident and rather than going directly to the individual, they are billed to their insurance.
Second District Peoria City Councilman Chuck Grayeb says there is no difference.
“Insurance is gonna pay for it….no no no. Insurance doesn’t pay for anything,” Grayeb said. “We the people, who pay the insurance companies…the premiums, pay for everything!”
Peoria residents would be forgiven for any amount insurance does not cover. The figurative “cost” to the individual would come in the form of possible hiked rates after filing an insurance claim.
But for non-residents, they would be responsible for whatever insurance does not pay.
Grayeb feels that could deter non-residents from coming Peoria and spending their tax dollars.
“If someone comes to Peoria and they’re involved in an accident, we shouldn’t be treating them this way,” Grayeb said.
Olehy, himself a Peoria resident, he acknowledged mounting frustrations over the idea of any additional city fees, but he also said the proposal is not a new one.
“Hundreds of places across the state and across the country do this. If [people] get in an accident in those cities, they’re going to get a bill for it,” Olehy said. “People are already paying this into their insurance companies right now, so either their insurance company keeps it, or pays it out to the fire department. I just feel that we should be able to recover that money to help offset some of the costs of the fire department.”
Olehy explained this is simply about getting much needed money back into the fire department’s budget.
Olehy also broke down the specifics of how that $200,000 translates into man power, adding that it costs the department nearly $100,000 per firefighter for the year.
Olehy says while the overall dollar amount gained may not seem like much, it takes a minimum three firefighters to deploy an engine. In an emergency, that makes a huge difference. In fact, he explained, it is the difference between having to take a piece of equipment out of commission, which in turn means a risk to public safety.
Grayeb continuously called it a non-starter. “It’s going to blow up and it’s going to blow up right in our faces because it wasn’t thought out well and I won’t support it.”
Despite his critiques of the proposal, Grayeb says the Peoria Fire Department has constantly been forced to carry the burden of finding ways to operate with less money.
Grayeb acknowledged how well the Peoria Fire Department operates, especially given the cut back of resources, but expects other city departments to share that responsibility.
He’s urging City Manager Patrick Urich and other leaders, along with his fellow council members, not to support this proposal and to return to the drawing board for a more viable solution.