AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – Faced with revenue shortfalls, the Aurora Fire Department is planning to charge members of the public new fees in 2021 for responding to car accidents, 911 medical calls and fire code inspections. The new fees are included in Aurora’s new 2021 budget which was approved by City Council on Oct. 19. The fees will go into effect next year, although a precise date has not yet been determined.
According to an email sent to Aurora Fire Rescue members this week from Chief Fernando Gray, “Most departments provided cuts to services to meet this challenge, but Aurora Fire Rescue instead focused our efforts on cost recovery options.”
The department says a “treat-no-transport fee” should raise about $450,000 per year by charging citizens who call 911 for medical assistance, but are subsequently not transported to a hospital.
Gray wrote that “A treat-no-transport fee is intended to recover costs for Emergency Medical Service (EMS) patients that call 911, receive treatment from AFR, but do not need hospital transport.”
In 2019, the department said there were 34,685 EMS calls with 5,148 patients receiving treatment without hospital transport. The department plans to charge those 911 callers who were not transported $175 under the new fee structure.
Sherri-Jo Stowell, a spokesperson for the Aurora Fire Department, declined to be interviewed on camera but said in a written statement, “These service fees are not unique in the Fire/EMS industry, and other national and regional providers already use fees to recoup costs.”
One Aurora City Councilmember expressed concerns that citizens might be hesitant to call 911 if they know there will be an additional financial cost, but he said he believes these types of fees have not discouraged calls for service in other municipalities.
Another new fee will affect drivers involved in vehicle accidents in Aurora. The fire department responds to about 3,000 crashes every year where they provide patient care, dispose of waste products on scene and ensure scene safety. The department currently does all that without additional charges. But they will now institute a “scene mitigation fee” which will recover costs associated with responding to and cleaning up motor vehicle accidents.
The department estimates it costs them $520 per hour to respond to accidents. Gray wrote “The fee involves requiring individuals to pay a motor vehicle collision or vehicle fire ‘cleanup fee.'”
Aurora residents, who are involved in 70% of the accidents, would be exempted from the new fee, which is estimated to recover about $375,000 per year.
While the fire department has said it believes insurance carriers for vehicle drivers will pick up these costs, Carole Walker with the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association challenged that assertion.
“This really is a ‘crash tax,'” said Walker. “They’re something we all pay taxes for and it’s not
something covered by a standard auto insurance policy. It puts the driver in the middle.”
The final new fee will be for initial building fire inspections, which currently carry no fee. The department says it plans to develop a fee schedule in 2021 based on occupancy types and square footage, hoping to raise an additional $337,500.
Stowell told CBS4 with the trio of new fees “A waiver program will be included to ensure that we meet the needs of those experiencing financial hardship.” She said the process that arrived at the new fees included input from various stakeholders like a Citizen Advisory Budget Committee and a Business Advisory Board.