No vote on St. Andrews car crash fee, pushed back until May

Published: Apr. 8, 2014 at 3:17 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 8, 2014 at 3:18 AM EDT
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ST. ANDREWS, SC (WCSC) - A vote on a car crash service fee that would bill a driver who caused the accident was pushed back Monday after a public hearing. The St. Andrews Public Service District initially proposed the ordinance to generate more revenue for the St. Andrews Fire Department.

Commissioners with the St. Andrews Public Service District say it is a service fee they're considering implementing because of the volume of calls the St. Andrews Fire Department now receives. They say the fee is not a tax.

In five years, the St. Andrews Fire Department's call volume has increased five-fold, from about 1,000 calls in 2008 to more than 5,000 last year.

"That increases our costs," explains district manager Christie Holderness. "Our fuel costs, our wear-and-tear on our equipment. Tires on fire trucks are not cheap."

Holderness says the proposed service fee is to help off-set some off the added expenses from an automatic aid agreement between Charleston, North Charleston, James Island and the St. John's fire district. Commissioners say the fee would not apply to St. Andrews residents since they pay property taxes. It would range from $300 to several hundred dollars per call.

"Depends on the fire truck," says Charlie Ledford, the chairman of the public service commission. "A ladder truck would obviously cost more to go out on a call than a small truck or a car."

The South Carolina Insurance News Service says 14 states have banned the practice of accident response fees statewide. The executive director says while several local jurisdictions have implemented a similar fee, the roll-out didn't go as promised.

"Number one, we've see that the revenues haven't been what were expected," says Russ Dubisky. "Number two, we see a lot of times that the insurance carriers are not paying these fees, and then the individual, the policy holder is getting a bill, which I don't think is the intention of these local ordinances."

In St. Andrews' version, the at-fault driver would be billed by a third party. If the service fee is not part of a company's insurance plan, commissioners say that's where it would end. The driver would never see a bill.

"It would be a soft bill." says Ledford. "We wouldn't be able to pursue it. It wouldn't be worth it."

The commissioners will discuss and revise the ordinance again. It has passed two readings. A final reading will be held May 5th.