Calif. city to begin billing homeowners' insurance for response

The Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District will soon begin billing people or their insurance companies when firefighters respond to vehicle fires, crashes, water rescues, hazmat calls and other rescue events


Erin Tracy
The Modesto Bee

The Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District will soon begin billing people or their insurance companies when firefighters respond to vehicle fires, crashes, water rescues, hazmat calls and other rescue events.

Its board voted last week to begin billing July 1 to recover costs for the services.

Anyone requiring the services, regardless of whether they live within the district’s coverage area and already pay a special assessment on their property, will be billed, according to a staff report.

The district serves Riverbank as well as unincorporated areas in east Modesto, Empire, Waterford, La Grange and Hickman, covering 217 square miles.

The bills will range from $494 to $562 for “motor vehicle incidents,” but an extrication would cost an additional $1,483, or if a helicopter landing zone was needed, $454. Water rescues will cost $455 to $2,274, plus $57 per hour per firefighter. Hazmat calls will range from $796 to $6,707, plus additional costs if the response exceeds three hours.

The district will not bill for structure fires or medical calls.

According to the staff report, individuals who do not have insurance will be billed directly, but the district opted not to send people to collections for non-payment.

The company contracted to do the billing, Fire Recovery USA, will keep 20% of what it collects.

Captain Buck Condit said the cost recovery is expected to bring in $75,000 to $100,000 each year.

Billing rates will increase annually by 1.5% or the annual percentage increase of the Consumer Price Index, whichever is higher.

Ripon, Escalon, Manteca districts also charging for services

Stanislaus Consolidated isn’t the first in Stanislaus County to implement cost recovery. The Salida Fire Protection District began billing in 2018.

Salida Administrative Captain Pat Burns said since its inception, cost recovery has generated $60,000 in revenue. He said the district does not bill individuals, only insurance companies.

Burns said the Oakdale Rural Fire Protection District has been billing since 2009 and the Woodland Avenue Fire District began billing within the last 18 months.

Departments in surrounding areas like Ripon, Escalon, Manteca and Calaveras County bill for services, Condit said.

Modesto Fire Department and Stanislaus Consolidated were researching cost recovery around the same time as Salida Fire. Modesto estimated it could generate $1 million a year.

Modesto never brought a proposal to the City Council. The Stanislaus Consolidated board at the time did hear the issue but wanted more information.

Residents and some elected officials in the cities the district serves opposed the billing. People argued they shouldn’t be billed when they already pay a special assessment on their property in addition to property taxes.

The assessment is charged as a flat rate for residential property and by square foot for commercial. For example, a single family residence was charged $286.21 last year.

The special assessment is the district’s most significant source of revenue, amounting to $7 million of its $11 million operating budget.

But Condit said it only funds the cost of fighting structure fires, not any of the other services for which the district will bill.

Also at the meeting last week, the board approved a 3% increase to the assessment for the 2020-21 fiscal year. The increase will amount to $205,000 annually.

The board has the option to increase the rate each year and has done so 11 times since the assessment began in 2005, Condit said.

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©2020 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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