The St. Andrew's Public Service Commission wanted to hear from the public about its proposed Motor Vehicle Service Fee and on Monday it got its wish.
When no audience members showed up in March, the commission met in their cramped quarters Monday in front of a standing-room-only crowd of about 20 insurance representatives and area residents.
After hearing comments from several folks and noting that commissioner Regan Blanchard was absent, the commission voted unanimously to table the issue for another month.
"I think we need more time," said commissioner Nancy Calvary. "I think our public needs more time actually also, so they get a good understanding of what's really going on because I think they've been misinformed."
Several audience members noted that the district has not made copies of the proposed ordinance available to the public.
The ordinance, also known as a crash tax, would allow St. Andrews to charge for responding to motor vehicle accidents. The cost is estimated to range from a few hundred dollars to more than a thousand and would be billed to non-district residents who are at-fault in an accident.
Fees would be determined by the response and range from $300 for a fire engine and crew to $350 for a rescue crew or a ladder crew.
The district responded to 343 motor vehicle accidents in 2012, district manager Christie Holderness said.
The district's total call volume increased from fewer than 1,000 calls in 2009 to almost 5,300 in 2013 due to a mutual-aid agreement with Charleston, North Charleston, James Island and St. John's Fire District. In 2012 the departments entered into a formal agreement to be simultaneously dispatched to help with fires and other emergencies.
The fee would be paid by insurance companies and would be charged by a third-party billing service, Holderness said. The district would not bill individuals if insurance companies refused to pay the fee.
Members of the insurance industry present Monday said the fee is typically not covered on auto insurance policies.
"This is not a standard fit under general contracts of insurance and is generally not covered," said Jeff Griffith, who represents the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. He said 14 states have banned the fees.
The fee could also cause insurance rates to go up, said David Wylie, who represents represent South Carolina Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company.
"There may be a few insurance companies that pay it, but I doubt that there are very many," he said. "If there was a mechanism that forced us to cover these fees or taxes, then what will happen is rates will rise, and the rates that will rise will be the rates of people that live in your area."
Residents also questioned whether the fee is a form of double taxation because the services are already funded through property and other local taxes.
Holderness said the district needs to find alternate ways to raise money because it relies solely on property taxes to fund its operations. In 2013, the owner of a $150,000 home in the district paid about $375 annually in taxes to receive its services, according to Charleston County records.
More than two dozen jurisdictions or departments in the state already have the fee in place. Locally, Dorchester County has considered the fee and in February sent the issue to committee. It was not on agendas for this week's meetings.
St. Andrews has discussed the proposed ordinance since August. It was deferred in January for legal advice and the commission did not meet in February. The ordinance was tabled in March and again on Monday.
The next meeting is at 6 p.m. May 5.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.
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