“Our resources are incredibly drained, and we’re trying to recover from a decade-long shortage of investments in first responders. … Anything we can do for public safety, we need to do right now without question” so said Mayor Tim Keller in an interview with the Albuquerque Journal regarding his plans to have the Albuquerque Fire and Rescue Department (AFRD) to start billing taxpayers when it is dispatched to the scene of a car crash or vehicle fires to raise $1 million to fund 12 firefighter positions.
ALBUQUERQUE FIRE AND RESCUE DEPARTMENT(AFRD) BUDGET
On April 1, 2019, the Keller Administration submitted its 2019-2020 fiscal year operating city budget to the Albuquerque City Council for review and budget hearings. The Keller Administration wanting to charge for AFRD responses for car crashes and fires is contained in the 2019-2020 proposed budget. You can review the entire proposed budget for AFRD here at page 110 of the budget:
The operating budget submitted by the Keller Administration is for $1.1 billion for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2019. Last year, the operating budget was $997 million. The Albuquerque City Council raised the gross receipts tax last year by three-eighths of 1% before the budget was even submitted. Mayor Tim Keller signed off on the tax increase breaking his campaign promise to get elected Mayor not to raise taxes without a public vote. Last year’s tax increase was implemented in order to deal with a projected deficit of $40 million, a deficit that never materialized.
Last year’s gross receipts tax increase generates $58 million per year and more than half of the tax increase revenue is going into public safety initiatives. The 2019-2020 budget represents an overall 11% increase in spending over the current year. The proposed 2019-2020 budget is the first time in city history that the city operating budget will exceed the $1 Billion figure. A whopping 47% of the General Fund budget expenditures is dedicated to fund the Police and Fire departments. The Albuquerque Police Departments (APD) proposed budget is for $209,852,000. The AFRD proposed budget is for $97,894,000. AFRD received a budget increase to cover 19 new positions, including seven in the field.
Under the proposed budget, the AFRD will go from 731 full time positions to 766 positions. (Page 110 of Proposed 2019-2020 Budget) In the proposed budget, it states that a new “emergency incident cost” recovery fee for AFRD will be billed to a taxpayer’s auto insurance company when it is dispatched to a call for service to the scene of a car crash or vehicle fire. If approved by the City Council, this will be the first time AFRD will be billing for services to the scene of a car crash or vehicle fire. The billing is projected to yield $1 million to fund 12 new firefighting positions out of a department total budget of close to $98 million dollars.
The AFRD has outlined the new “cost recovery” system for AFRD’s responses to automobile fires and to car crashes that require hazardous material cleanup or extractions. The proposed fees as set out in the city’s fire code ordinance will be $400 for “hazard mitigation and cleanup” and another $1,305 for use of “heavy rescue tools and other equipment” to remove someone from a crash vehicle. Under the proposal, the department could also bill $400 per hour for any additional time on the scene under the plan.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Police and Fire protection are basic essential services that virtually every citizen in the city pays for with their taxes. The providing of an essential service, when it comes to police and fire protection, should be free of charge and such services should not be for profit, period. Both the police department and the fire department are not “enterprise funds” such as the aviation department that runs the airport, that operates very much like a private business when it charges “user fees” to airlines to operate and maintain the airport facilities but without a profit and with the goal of breaking even. Taxpayers have the right to demand that they not be forced to pay for basic essential services twice. The Albuquerque Fire and Rescue Department (AFRD) billing a taxpayer’s auto insurance company when it is dispatched to the scene of a car crash or vehicle fires to raise $1 million to fund 12 firefighter positions borders on the grotesque on so many levels.
Car insurance coverage contracts, other than the premiums and coverage amounts, are basically not negotiable and if the city bills an insurance company it will probably claim it’s not covered and just forward it on to the insured or the party who was at fault. A very large percentage of people do not carry car insurance, and those who do, the insurance carrier will likely deduct the city charge for AFRD accident scene clean up from any insurance claim paid.
Another foreseeable problem is when the accident is the result of the city’s negligence in highway maintenance or caused by a city vehicle, say a cop running a light and t-boning someone, which has happened more than once over the past few years. If multiple cars are involved, and liability not determined, it will be difficult for the city to send the bill to the party who is truly liable. The city maintains a contract with numerous private wrecking companies that are on a rotating schedule, when the city could easily purchase “tow-trucks” and do the job to clean up crash scenes. And if there is a car crash fatality, and no insurance, the City will probably want to charge the decedent’s family for the call for service which can easily be in the thousands of dollars given the proposed fee schedule.
The proposed fee to extract someone from a car crash will be $1,305 and hopefully, it’s a flat fee that won’t be charged per body part extracted by AFRD. Next thing you know, the Keller Administration will want the police department to charge for their calls for service because APD is consistently going over its overtime budget by the millions of dollars. It is not at all difficult to imagine the AFRD or APD generating a bill for a call for service at a scene of a fatality, give it to a decedent’s relatives and telling them “Sorry for your loss. Please give this bill to your insurance carrier, and if there is no insurance, please call to make payment arraignments”.
It is pathetice how Mayor Tim Keller cannot find $1 million in a $1.1 Billion-dollar budget after last year’s tax increase to deliver a basic essential service for the fire department to be dispatched to a car crash or vehicle fire to assist. Mayor Tim Keller wanting Albuquerque Fire and Rescue Department (AFRD) to bill a taxpayer when it is dispatched to the scene of a car crash or vehicle fires to raise $1 million to fund 12 firefighter positions borders on the grotesque. It is also ill advised when he says “Anything we can do for public safety, we need to do right now without question.” The providing of an essential service, when it comes to police and fire protection, should be free of charge, period. Such services should not be for profit. Next thing you know, the Keller Administration will want APD to charge for their calls for service because it is consistently going over its overtime budget by the millions of dollars. It is not at all difficult to imagine the AFRD or APD generating a bill for a call for service at a scene of a fatality, give it to a decedent’s relatives and telling them “Sorry for your loss. Please give this bill to your insurance carrier, and if you do not have insurance, call the city and payment arraignments.”
Over the next few weeks, the Albuquerque City Council “Committee of the Whole”, consisting of all 9 city councilors, will hold budget hearings on each department budget and alter or amend the budget as they see fit, vote to approve and the budget will take effect July 1, 2019. The City Council needs to put the brakes on this grotesque idea to have AFRD to charge for car crash or vehicle fire calls for service and find the $1 million in the $1.1 Billion budget, especially after Mayor Tim Keller agreed with them to raise taxes last year without a public vote. The City Council needs to tell Mayor Keller, that despite his own opinion, everything does not need to be done for public safety without question.