Ypsilanti Fire Department looks to charge for services
The Ypsilanti Fire Department will soon charge for some of its services.
Under a measure passed unanimously by the Ypsilanti City Council Tuesday, Fire Chief Jon Ichesco will have the authority to bill insurance companies for reimbursement of department costs. They'll be charged for responses to hazardous material spills, crashes and fires that don’t appear to be accidental.
The council’s 7-0 vote was on a second reading, City Manager Ed Koryzno said. The measure will take effect two weeks later.
The ordinance will help the department recover the cost for services from insurance companies, and Ichesco said it will mostly apply to automobile crashes. But it also will include fires caused by illegal activity or negligence.
Ichesco stressed this morning that the system for billing hasn't been determined, but the city is not aiming to bill people without insurance.
The measure is designed to help the cash-strapped city maintain its current level of service and could generate $36,000 to $72,000 annually, city reports said.
Ypsilanti has been hit hard by the state’s slumping economy.
Taxable property values in the city declined by nearly 8 percent this year; those values are expected to fall another 8 percent and 10 percent over the next two years, respectively.
In April, Koryzno proposed laying off three firefighters to help fill a $463,000 gap in this year’s budget, but he withdrew the idea after strong reaction from council members.
Ichesco first brought the revenue-generating idea to council that month, and a public hearing was held. Council members discussed the plan in May but wanted further information before taking action, Koryzno said.
In documents provided then, the department determined a firefighter would cost $36 an hour and an officer or inspector would cost $43 an hour. Having a support vehicle on scene would cost $150 an hour and an aerial truck or fire engine would cost $450 per hour.
Among council member’s concerns was whether citizens would, in effect, be charged for firefighting services they already support with tax dollars.
Officials said that while residents do pay for fire service, they’re also required to purchase home and auto insurance. With insurance companies paying the bill, there is no additional taxpayer burden.
“It’s not a fee, it’s a reimbursement for services provided,” City Attorney John Barr said. “Taxpayers do pay for fire service, but they also pay insurance, and this way it actually lessens the tax burden.”
The ordinance will not apply to fires that “occurred naturally” and are not intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or negligently started, the ordinance states. Natural disasters and acts of God are also exempt.
Barr said the ordinance will not affect insurance rates in the city, and that other communities - including, Chelsea, Pittsfield and Saline - have similar authority.
The Ypsilanti Fire Department is staffed by 20 firefighters and has an annual budget of $2.9 million.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct a mistake. Deputy City Clerk Ed Golembiewski said the agenda incorrectly stated it was first reading, and the council first passed the ordinance in May. A decision was tabled until Tuesday night's meeting.
Art Aisner is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2530.