At least 50 cities in the state have adopted so-called crash-tax laws allowing local governments to seek reimbursement from insurance companies for the costs of sending public emergency crews to accident scenes. The fees can amount to hundreds or even thousands of dollars. If insurers don't pay, cities can hire collection agents to seek payment from the motorists involved.
Sacramento, with nearly half a million residents, soon could be the largest city in California to do so. The City Council has scheduled a vote next month to establish what it's calling a "fire cost recovery charge." The fee would reimburse the city for a variety of emergency-related chores, including cleaning up hazardous fluids, putting out vehicle fires and responding to gas line explosions and downed power poles. Proposed fees would range from $432 for a "scene stabilization" to $2,275 for a helicopter evacuation. The measure is expected to raise as much as $500,000 a year, city spokeswoman Linda Tucker said.
"To me, it's an outrage. We're already paying these people — the police department, the fire department, the emergency vehicle drivers — handsome salaries and benefits," said Lew Uhler, president of the National Tax Limitation Committee. "Either we stop this kind of nonsense or we should quit paying taxes for these kind of services."