SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) – The city of San Marcos is looking to repeal a set of fees that the San Marcos Fire Department has had in place for the last three years.
On Sept. 3, 2013, San Marcos City Council members approved ordinance 2013-45 that implemented a collection of fees for certain services provided by the San Marcos Fire Department at vehicle fires, vehicle collisions, hazardous waste spills and rescue incidents.
Some of the fees included paying by the hour for vehicles such as hazmat trucks, fire trucks, rescue trucks and command units ranging from $75 an hour to $500 an hour. A fee per firefighter per hour was also charged at $25, a battalion chief set at $30 an hour and a senior chief at $35 an hour.
The fees also included equipment used such as chain saws, bolt cutters, water extinguisher and thermal imaging cameras. Protective equipment and fire equipment replacements were also charged to the tab if used during an event.
According to the 2013 ordinance, the fee was not directly assessed against residents of the city of San Marcos in connection with vehicle collisions, or vehicle fires, except in those instances in which a resident has been convicted of an offense that constitutes at least a Class B misdemeanor that caused or resulted in the collision or fire.
“Money has to come from somewhere. This was a model that has been used around the country and has grown in popularity as a way to offset even if only in a small way to offset some of those costs,” said San Marcos Fire Chief Les Stephens.
Stephens says as the population increased, so did their call volume. Although that meant more money for the city he says it also meant more time spent doing paperwork.
“It was very time consuming, it was taking one of my assistant chiefs several hours a day and sometimes two or three days a week to make sure that we were sending bills to people that the ordinance included, but not sending the bills erroneously to someone that was not included,” said Stephens. “When you think of several thousand incidents a year, it is cumbersome, and that’s what we found. There were other city’s that billed everyone, they billed residents and not residents alike. And had we had made those changes to the ordinance, the generation of the revenue would have gone up, the amount of time invested would have gone down but our council was very clear that they didn’t want to bill residents of the city of San Marcos.”
Stephens says most of those fees were picked up by the victim’s insurance companies. Last year, the city profited around $60,000 from the program, the money collected went straight to the city’s general fund.
“The more money that’s in there obviously, the more money to go around, so we weren’t out to bring this money directly to the fire department it was to bring it into the city’s general fund because that is where all of our budget money comes from,” said Stephens.
Stephens says although dropping the fee could hurt the city’s budget, it means more manpower to protect the city, and that, he says, is priceless.
San Marcos City Council members will do the second reading of the new ordinance to dismiss the fee tonight. However, Chief Stephens says they actually stopped the fees two months ago as part of the budget policy workshop.