Municipalities may bill for fire calls
The municipalities served by the Hudson Fire Department that don't already do it are considering billing property owners for fire calls.
The Advisory Joint Fire Board reportedly began discussing the idea as a way to keep property taxes levied to fund the fire department in check.
At a meeting last week, the fire board asked fire department officials to start providing the municipalities with run reports so the municipalities can review whether they want to bill property owners for the calls.
"It is up to each municipality to decide what they want to do," said Roger Riedel, chairman of the fire board and a Hudson City Council member. "The fire board isn't mandating or promoting this. It's just making the information available."
The Hudson Fire Department serves the city of Hudson, town of Hudson, village of North Hudson and a portion of the town of Troy. The city owns the equipment and the other municipalities contract with it for fire service.
The expense of running the department is divided among the municipalities on the basis of equalized property values. In 2005, the city will fund 48.2 percent of the budget; the town of Hudson, 30.7 percent; the village of North Hudson, 13.4 percent; and the town of Troy, 7.7 percent.
The fire department has proposed a $667,570 budget for 2005.
According to Fire Chief Jim Frye, billing for fire services became an issue because the town of Troy already does it.
Part of the town of Troy is served by the River Falls Fire Department, which bills $400 to the property owner for each run it makes. The Troy Town Board decided it wasn't fair to bill property owners in the River Falls fire district for fire calls and not bill property owners in the Hudson fire district.
Frye doesn't like the idea of billing for fire services.
"We don't want people to hesitate about calling for service if they really need it," he said. "We're in the business to save lives and protect property - and the best way we can do that is by early detection and early intervention."
He's afraid some people might try to put out a fire themselves instead of calling for help because they don't want to be billed.
Frye said billing for services also would add to the department's administrative duties and generate complaints from property owners. He believes the fire department is a community service that should be funded by taxes instead of user fees.
Riedel noted that it will be up to the municipalities to do the billing if they decide to charge for fire department runs.
He said most homeowner insurance policies pay up to $500 for fire department services. If a municipality doesn't bill for fire services, it's a benefit that homeowners pay for, but can't use, he said.
Randy Hanson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.