Anyone who owes the Fenton Fire Department any money may want to pay up before more aggressive collection action
At its Tuesday, Sept. 3 work
session, the Fenton City Council discussed a request by Fire Chief Bob Cairnduff to pursue hiring a collection agency used successfully by neighboring Tyrone Township to recover fire service costs.
The fire department has been billing for services under the Cost Recovery ordinance since 2004, which was updated with a new fee schedule in 2010.
In a memo to City Manager Lynn Markland, Cairnduff said, “Since January of 2016, we average about four cost recovery ordinances per month. In that time, we invoiced approximately $124,000 and have recovered only $47,000. That is a 38 percent collection average. We feel we can improve on this.”
Currently, when the fire department responds to an incident involving a non-resident, the fire department issues a memo to the city treasurer that indicates the responsible person and the amount to be billed. An invoice is then generated and sent to the responsible party.
“The issues we face are that many people simply do not respond to our invoices, we have bad address information or they simply refuse to pay,” Cairnduff said.
The fire department, he added, does not have the resources to handle these issues. They previously took these outstanding invoices to small claims court and have been successful in obtaining judgments. They have not, however, been successful in collecting monies owed.
Cairnduff said he received a good recommendation from Tyrone Township on a collection agency they use successfully, Universal Credit Services (UCS). “We have since met with UCS multiple times and we feel that they will improve our overall efficiency rate and collection rate,” he said.
Cairnduff said cost recovery only applies to incidents that happen inside the city limits (including U.S. 23). “For instance, if it’s a vehicle fire on the expressway, we bill the registered owner and they may then turn it over to their insurance company,” he said. “If the insurance doesn’t cover it then the responsible person still owes. We would not bill them if they are a city resident.”
City residents provide pro rata support for fire and other emergency services through taxes paid to the city. According to the ordinance, this does not apply if the city responds to a fire or provides other emergency services resulting from recurrent false alarms or excessive requests for other emergency services
“If we run an incident in Tyrone Township we (city of Fenton) invoice Tyrone Township,” he said. “If the person is a resident of Tyrone then Tyrone does not bill them. This is what their assessment covers. If they are a non-resident of Tyrone Township then Tyrone would bill that person.”
If the Fenton City Council decides to approve Cairnduff’s recommendation, the collection agency would be paid on a graduated scale. The collection agency would get $20 per invoice. If the bill is not paid in 90 days, it goes up from there (percentage points).
COST RECOVERY CHARGES
According to the Fenton Code of Ordinances (section 12-6), the following is a non-exhaustive list of fire protection services and other emergency services that, when provided by the city within the city limits, are billable and collectible as cost recovery charges. They include, but are not limited to:
● Responding to a multi or single motor vehicle and/or pedestrian accident, or other incident involving motor vehicle(s) and/or pedestrian(s)
● Responding to a grass, rubbish, motor vehicle, aircraft, train, tree or forest, house, multiple-family building, hotel, motel, or other commercial establishment fire
● Responding to a downed power line or other non-HAZMAT public utility hazard response
● Responding to a false alarm
● Responding to excessive requests for emergency assistance
● Responding to a bomb threat
● Responding to a threat to harm oneself or others
● Demolition of a structure
The following properties and services are exempt from cost recovery charges under this article:
● Responding to a fire involving city buildings, grounds, and/or property
● Responding to a fire or providing other emergency services that are provided and performed outside of the city. Notwithstanding such exemption for services provided outside of the city, the city and other municipalities may adopt (an) ordinance(s) to impose fees for fire and emergency service runs within their respective territories
● Responding to a fire or providing other emergency services within the city limits that are provided to or performed for a resident of the city. This exemption is made due to the fact that city residents provide pro rata support for fire and other emergency services through taxes paid to the city. Provided, however, that this exemption does not apply if the city responds to a fire or provides other emergency services resulting from recurrent false alarms or excessive requests for other emergency services