If your car starts on fire outside of Payson town limits or you’re in a rollover, you could receive a bill from the Payson Fire Department.
The details still need sorting out, but during its Sept. 14 work study meeting, the Payson Town Council gave Fire Chief David Staub the go-ahead to research how to charge and what to charge to recoup expenses incurred when the department responds to incidents outside town limits.
“This was set up in the 1980s basically so the traveling public had quick medical response,” said Staub of the current set-up, where PFD responds to calls, including those outside the town.
Currently, the PFD will respond to an incident that either requires more help than an ambulance can provide or fill in when no ambulance is available, without charge.
But that could change.
“The town council has adopted rates,” said Staub, the first in 2001, the second in 2008.
Based on the most recent rate structure, Staub estimates the department lost almost $9,000 during fiscal year 2019/20 responding to accidents outside of town.
“We (the department and town) do not have the capacity to bill internally for this,” said Staub.
The town has tried in the past, but if they did not receive a payment on the first try, they gave up.
Staub suggested hiring Fire Recovery USA, an outside company that works on a contingency basis to bill for calls answered outside of town limits.
Staub said he has worked with this company while at other fire departments.
“Tell me what we would be billing for,” asked Councilor Barbara Underwood.
Staub explained most incidents PFD responds to require scene stabilization and taking care of patients.
“That is essentially what they bill,” said Staub of Fire Recovery USA.
Underwood then asked how much the company charges.
Staub said 10%.
“It is a fee-for-service,” he said. “The key question that comes up … how aggressive do we get with collections?”
He asked the council if they should go after individuals if their insurance doesn’t pay and charge residents and non-residents alike.
“It seems if they are a taxpayer, they are supporting the Payson Fire Department. I think there should be a consideration for that,” said Mayor Tom Morrissey.
A majority of the council agreed with Morrissey. They do not want to charge residents.
Jon Paladini, Pierce Coleman law firm contract town attorney, cautioned the council pursuing a divided path could end in lawsuits.
“A lot of sales tax comes from tourism passing through town,” he said.
Those tourists could argue about equal protection issues, said Paladini.
Morrissey cautioned the council about whatever decision was decided to watch the messaging.
“Issues could come up that we are being double taxed,” he said, but appreciated, “we are not spending money to get it.”
Staub said he will come back to the council with a new rate structure to consider. After a year, he would give a report on the program.
Staub cautioned not everything is billable, however. If the Forest Service needs help with a wildfire, the town cannot charge for that.