Stanislaus County is Considering Charging its Residents for Emergency Services

STANISLAUS COUNTY -- How would you like paying $56 an hour for response services to your emergency, on top of $450 for each fire engine to show up to a fire or rescue?

That is what residents in Riverbank, Oakdale and parts of Modesto are faced with.

Most of us assume that fire protection is a basic service that is paid for through taxes.

That is why there is some controversy surrounding the proposal which will be discussed in a workshop here in riverbank on Thursday evening.

The Stanislaus Consolidated Fire District, like many districts, is financed with a special assessment on property owners; that money is only supposed to be used for fighting fires. However, as we know, fire departments do much more than that these days.

Special fire assessment districts collect money only to fight fires.

Districts like the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire District also responds to medical and hazmat calls; as well as car accidents, floods, and rescues that eat up their budgets.

That’s why the district is looking at billing many people who call for help.

They would be billed up to: $450 for a rescue vehicle plus $56 per hour per person rescued; $680 for a car fire; over $2000 for a DART team water rescue; and an extra $1400 to use special equipment like the Jaws of Life to get you out of a car wreck. More costs would be billed if a call was the result of an illegal fire.

That is only a partial list.

“I thought that’s what taxes were for, those services,” said John Cordova, a Stanislaus County resident.

You can understand the concern for residents in the district.

Most of them do not realize that funds come from a restricted assessment on property that does not include the cost of anything other than fire suppression.

Even those who realize that the fire district costs are not being reimbursed, fear that fewer calls for help would come in.

“Some people are going to say, ‘don’t help me don’t help me I don’t want to pay,’ so that’s going to cause a lot of trouble,” said Sarah Smith, a Stanislaus County resident.

And some emergencies may get out of hand. For instance, would someone who felt they were at fault for a fire delay call the fire department endangering lives and property?

“If you can deal with a water hose, get away with a water hose. That’s what I would do,” said Cordova.

On the other hand, the concept is not new.  One company that specializes in fire district cost recovery, has contracts with 95 fire districts in the state, dozens of them in our viewing area.

Stanislaus Consolidated is considering the same company, hoping to collect around $330,000 more for its budget after the cost recovery company gets its cut.

The Modesto Fire Department has also explored the idea of added billing for medical calls to generate more revenue.