The Toledo Fire Department's practice of charging fees to respond to injury accidents came in for a grilling yesterday in a hearing of Toledo City Council's committee of the whole.
But whether council will act to curtail a program that generates more than $100,000 a year for the city was not clear.
Council members questioned the fairness and legality of some aspects of the program, which they approved in 2004.
Since last year, the fire department has used a Dayton-area billing company, Cost Recovery Corp., to charge fees to at-fault motorists for responding to injury accidents. Cost Recovery keeps 10 percent of the money it collects.
The program has generated more than $230,000 in new revenue since January, 2005, as well as controversy from insurance companies and motorists.
Fire Chief Michael Bell said the original intent was to charge insurance companies, which would pay the fee out of the premiums. But he said some insurers are refusing to pay in hopes of getting the fees abolished, resulting in collection letters being sent to policyholders by Cost Recovery.
Terry Henley, chief executive officer of Cost Recovery, said his company sends those letters only to nonresidents of Toledo.
Councilman Ellen Grachek questioned whether it was legal to charge the motor vehicle accident fee only to nonresidents. Councilman Joe Birmingham said some of those nonresidents may be Toledo taxpayers because they work in the city.
Councilman Mark Sobczak said he'd rather collect the fee than consider laying off firefighters. "We should go after the insurance companies rather than stick our citizens with these fees," he said.
Council President Rob Ludeman said he cast the only no vote on the fees in 2004, in part, because there was no showing that the fees enhance safety.
"This one is hard to swallow if it's simply meant to enhance revenue," he said.
Chief Bell said the program was developed to help avoid service cuts and layoffs in the department - options that are still available to council.
The fees range from around $600 to more than $2,000, and are based on the number of fire vehicles and personnel responding, and how long they stay.