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The Northwoods River News | Rhinelander, Wisconsin

First Weber-Make a Smooth move

home : news : city news June 24, 2016

Williams
Williams
6/27/2014 7:30:00 AM
City officials express frustration with public's negative reaction to car-accident billing proposal

Marcus Nesemann
Reporter/Photographer


City of Rhinelander officials are still investigating the possibility of charging a fee to drivers involved in car accidents within the city limits.

Fire Chief Terry Williams told members of city's Protection of Persons and Property Committee Tuesday he is still researching the issue and would like additional guidance.

"I do not have the project completed. I wanted to ask (the committee) a little bit, is there any particular direction you'd like me to go?" Williams asked.

A proposal to bill motorists for car accidents has been under discussion since April. Williams has been directed to research the issue and bring back a formal proposal. During his update on Tuesday, Williams said he has received a lot of negative feedback on the idea and believes additional community education is necessary. He stated he believes those opposed to the proposal don't have a clear understanding of how the billing would work.

"There's been some pretty negative comments about it. I think the majority of the negative comments come from people that don't understand necessarily what we're trying to do," he said.

As part of his research, Williams said he has been investigating how other fire departments handle accident charges. He said one of the best examples he has found comes from the Elkhorn Area Fire Department, which charges a $500 fee to each vehicle involved in an accident.

"The one I think that I've found to be the simplest is the town of Elkhorn. That was a $500 flat fee and that was a charge to each vehicle that's involved," Williams said. "What happens then is, if somebody's zero percent at fault, the insurance companies fight it out. ... That just seemed to be the simplest."

Williams said he hopes people will come to understand why the city is looking into charging for accidents the fire department responds to and what it would mean for those involved in such accidents.

"I think the people that are negative about it don't understand what we're trying to do," he said, adding that many of those opposed have indicated they believe the department is just looking for another source of revenue.

Committee chairman Alex Young said that's not the case. He reiterated that the proposal is a way to transfer the cost burden away from city taxpayers and onto the actual users of fire department services.

"By statute, we have to reduce the tax levy by whatever we generate. It's not any difference in revenue to (the fire) department, it's a difference in where the money's coming from," Young said. "It's not actually a cost that's going to end up being borne by the individuals, it's borne by their insurance companies. They're required by state law to carry the insurance and the insurance already covers this, so it really is not a cost that's ever going to be somebody's personal problem unless they're breaking the law and they don't have insurance."

"I am in favor of this moving forward because (City Administrator) Blaine (Oborn) has done a good job in getting some word out there ... lately in terms of the disparity between the way that revenue is generated in the city and the way that our costs are generated based on the daytime population and based on people burning up our streets and then driving home to the townships at night," he added. "This is one measure that we can take to try and rectify the disparity between where our costs are and where our revenues are generated and give some relief to the homeowners in the city who are disproportionately burdened."

Questions still remain regarding the morality of charging someone who is not at fault, committee members said.

"My issue with this is still the possibility that a person who theoretically has no fault at all in some kind of collision could still see their insurance rates rise because of this," committee member Joe Salzer said. "Someone is sitting at a stoplight, not moving, not doing anything, and someone comes along and rear ends them, under this proposed idea, $500 is charged to each vehicle and it's entirely possible (the insurance rates could rise for the driver who is not at fault)."

Young argued a driver who is not a fault would still see their insurance rates go up even if there was no charge from the fire department.

"That's also true of any accident where you didn't do anything wrong. As it is right now, by statute in Wisconsin, you're automatically at fault just for being on the road," he said. "My brother's an attorney that deals with this all the time. You are automatically partially at fault just for being on the road, whether you did something wrong or not. Then the insurance companies fight about who's going to pay for what, but it already is that way. At the end of the day, if you get in an accident, whether it's your fault or not, your insurance is most likely going to go up."

The committee also discussed how the city might handle a number of other types of accidents including a car hitting an unoccupied parked vehicle, a car hitting an occupied parked vehicle with the motor running, a car hitting an occupied parked vehicle without the motor running, and other scenarios.

Some of those scenarios would not result in billing, Williams said, as the department responds to only a small number of accidents.

"The fire department is not called to every accident in the city. We're only called to the very significant ones where there's injury which the ambulance is going to pick up the injured anyway, so that's a completely different subject," he said. "The fire department is called when there's fluids leaking, when there's extrication needed, things like that, dangerous situations."

Committee members agreed they will have to make decisions about how each of those scenarios will be handled as the policy takes shape. Williams expects to have a formal proposal next month.

Marcus Nesemann may be reached at marcus@rivernewsonline.com



Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Article comment by: Cory Hoffmann

"I  am in favor of this moving forward because (City Administrator) Blaine (Oborn) has done a good job in getting some word out there ... lately in terms of the disparity between the way that revenue is generated in the city and the way that our costs are generated based on the daytime population and based on people burning up our streets and then driving home to the townships at night," he added. "This is one measure that we can take to try and rectify the disparity between where our costs are and where our revenues are generated and give some relief to the homeowners in the city who are disproportionately burdened."

Wow!!! Really??? Us people that burn up your streets and then drive home to our townships at night also own busineses in Rhinelander, are employees of Rhinelander (hey, your police chief and city clerk live in a surounding township), and shop in Rhinelander. How dare you blame your revenue disparity on us!!
I am in favor of the city trying to find different ways to create revenue besides raising the real estate taxes, but will voice my opinion on this quote. Good luck.




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