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Outcry Causes Minnesota Town to Drop ‘Crash Tax’

South Metro Fire Department would have charged nonresidents for services at accident sites. But public opposition scuttled the plan.

Public outcry has doused plans for the South Metro Fire Department to start charging out-of-towners a "crash tax" for emergency services at traffic accident scenes.

The board of directors for South Metro, which serves South St. Paul and West St. Paul, agreed Wednesday not to recommend that the fee be included in a new city ordinance.

If it had, the decision could have set a precedent in the state. In her research, Kori Land, city attorney for South and West St. Paul, said she was unable to find any other Minnesota city that had an ordinance requiring only nonresidents to pay such a fee. Some cities charge a fee for all accidents, regardless of where the drivers live.

"I think the bottom line is it's a little bit untested," Land had said before the meeting.

Negative comments from the public were enough to outweigh the estimated $30,000 a year that the fee was expected to generate, said Jim Englin, president of the South Metro board and a West St. Paul City Council member.

"We heard everybody loud and clear," Englin said.

The fee, which would have either been charged to auto insurance companies or directly to the individuals, would have been an estimated $577 per call.

"Crash taxes" are not uncommon. The Minneapolis Fire Department has charged for providing care at accident scenes since 2004, but it charges residents and nonresidents.

The fee was one of several options that the department has considered to try to generate money. At the end of last year, contract negotiations between South Metro and the provider of its ambulance service, HealthEast Medical Transportation, led to changes that will wipe out about $152,000 of the department's annual revenues.

"We just have to be creative in these times," said South Metro Fire Chief John Ehret.

The ordinance, which would need to be approved by both cities, still includes fees for incidents involving underground pipeline utility breaks, hazardous materials and technical rescues such as those on the water or in confined spaces when special equipment and training is needed. Residents and nonresidents alike would be charged the fees.

Despite the "crash tax" getting a thumbs down, Englin said it was a good example of the government listening to its constituents.

"Even though this thing kind of went sideways, I thought it was a good exercise," Englin said.



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