Fire fees equal fire fighting on the pay-per-use plan |

Fire fees equal fire fighting on the pay-per-use plan

“Sorry about your house, sir. We did all we could but I am afraid the structure was fully engulfed with flames when we arrived. My sympathies, and here’s a bill for $500 for our services.”

Sound shocking? Only in so much as firefighters in this city have never been that callous.

But the fee, well, that’s a ridiculous city of South Lake Tahoe policy that has been in place for more than three years.

Back when the city budget was tight and employee layoffs imminent, city council imposed a package of fees on city residents that included a charge for firefighters’ services.

Those fees are levied almost every time the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department answers a call. And it doesn’t matter if you or someone else makes the call.

Say, for example, you fall off your bike into a heap on the sidewalk and someone who sees your accident calls 911. As you are shaking off the pain and embarrassment, a fire truck arrives. You say to the firefighters that you are fine. They offer to check you over anyway. They do a quick exam and off you go.

A few weeks later, much to your surprise, a $90 bill arrives from the city fire department. Yes, you have to pay, even if the scab on your knee has already disappeared. That’s city regulations.

But it is an inane regulation based on a knee-jerk reaction to a tight budget.

Surely fire department services come under the category of items covered by our tax dollars. When city residents pay approximately $3 million a year for the fire department, why are we forced to pay twice?

Public safety is a fundamental reason for levying taxes in the first place. For the city to then impose fees on top of taxes is about as penny-pinching and obnoxious as a jurisdiction can get.

During tight financial times, or even during flush ones, charging fees for services not completely covered by taxes or for services not considered essential, like recreation, is a viable option for a jurisdiction. But fire and police, snow removal and other vital services are not among those where fees are appropriate.

To make the situation even more vexing, the yearly amount generated by the fees is a mere $40,000. That hardly makes a blip on the budget screen.

The city is risking the good will of its citizens for what amounts to chump change, and that’s just poor public policy.

The philosophy behind charging for fire department services is the notion that if you use the service, you should pay more than someone who doesn’t. That may work with park fees, but it falls flat when it comes to fire fees. Fire department services are not ones most of us associate with a pleasant and repeatable experience. Therefore the notion of that a person who is forced because of tragedy or accident to use the fire department should pay more than those of us lucky enough to have escaped misfortune is ludicrous.

The idea of fire fees is repugnant. The thought of forking over more money during a fire or accident is like paying twice for a service we all hope we will never need, but pay to maintain just in case we may.

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