By Betsy Dolan
The City of Missouri City wants to make one thing clear: their new fire emergency services fee is not a crash tax.
Missouri City is doing damage control after the fee was called a “crash tax” by local media outlets, causing confusion in the community and anger among council members.
“I’m disappointed that certain media decided not to tell the truth,” said Mayor Allen Owen. “It was portrayed like we cooked this up in a back room as a way to gouge the citizens and that is not what happened. We’re always looking for ways to save our citizens money.”
The ordinance, which the city is calling a “cost recovery program” will help the city recoup expenses when firefighters are dispatched to car fires, injury accidents and hazardous spills.
It was set to take effect March 1 but the City Council decided to put the measure on hold for 90 days to educate community groups about what the new fee structure means and make any necessary changes to the ordinance.
Fees for emergency fire services have been broken down into four tiers ranging from $500 to $2,000. A motor vehicle fire is considered a Tier 1 event while a fatal car accident is a Tier 4 event.
The city would submit the fire services fee to the at-fault motorist’s insurance company only if a claim has already been filed by the motorist.
In the event an insurance provider does not cover these fees, the individual will not be billed.
If an individual at fault does not have insurance or a provider refuses to pay or does not cover the full invoice for services rendered, the city will not pursue the matter.
“Research shows that insurance providers have not increased premiums based on the implementation of cost recovery programs but rather based on at-risk driving habits and behavior,” according to a Missouri City news release. “Currently most liability insurance covers the fee.”
Bellaire, Channelview, Georgetown, San Angelo, Marshall, Greenville, Bryan and College Station also reportedly assess cost recovery fees.
The new emergency services fee was initiated after a gasoline tanker fire in front of City Hall in September 2011. Missouri City Fire responded to the explosion. The City was unable to recover all of the emergency services costs and as a result, began discussions on the emergency fire services fee as a way to prevent taxpayers from covering such costs in the future.