This could happen to you, starting next month.
Say you're driving home from dinner at T-Bonz when some lunkhead runs the red light at Sam Rittenberg and 61 and T-bones you.
Your leg is bashed up, the car is totaled. You're looking at medical bills, a deductible and a lot of pain.
And then the St. Andrew's Public Service District hits you again - this time with a bill for $500.
It's a crash tax, pure and simple.
Now, the PSD doesn't like that term, which is only fair, since no one else likes this idea. But on Monday the commission voted to charge a fee for responding to accidents involving people who don't live in the PSD.
See, the PSD operates on a shoestring budget these days, and is busier than ever. That is unfortunate, but this isn't the correct first response.
In fact, the crash tax is a horrible idea.
A train wreck
In 2012 Jimmy Buffett, God and Mickey Mouse all missed the runoff for a seat on the St. Andrew's Public Service District commission by one vote.
You can bet none of them would have voted for this.
Well, maybe Mickey - Disney charges for everything except parking.
Bottom line, the PSD election was so widely ignored that the runoff for the open seat was between all those folks who got two votes each. That's not exactly a mandate.
Many people probably opted not to vote because they didn't know what the PSD actually is. Well, it's a mini government that offers citified services to people who want the benefits of living in a municipality without actually having to pay taxes to a municipality.
In West Ashley, the PSD serves about 22,000 people who live in unincorporated "doughnut holes" of the county. It provides garbage and fire service, and collects a few hundred dollars from most households. It takes in $6 million a year, most of which goes to its fire department.
Several years back, the PSD joined a mutual-aid agreement with the fire departments in Charleston and North Charleston, as well as the James Island and Johns Island PSDs. It's been a good thing for public safety.
As a result St. Andrew's PSD now responds to about five times the number of calls it used to. That's rough. But at the same time, residents of the PSD have gained access to the much larger and better equipped fire departments of Charleston and North Charleston without having to pay an extra dime.
Seems kind of petty to not return the favor. Especially since a mutual aid agreement doesn't require you to respond to every single call outside your jurisdiction - just the ones where help is requested.
North Charleston Fire Chief Greg Bulanow says he is sympathetic to the PSD's plight, and says this debate brings up the role of fire departments in providing emergency care. His department has cut down on its costs by not sending fire trucks to every EMS call.
That's what the ambulances are for.
St. Andrew's says it could cut costs by buying an SUV to respond to some incidents, like other departments often do. That's a good idea - get your trained first-responders to the scene quicker, and without driving a big fire truck.
Surely some nice car dealer or local government would donate a used Explorer to avoid this train wreck.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley says emergency response is a primary role of government, one that is funded through taxes that everyone pays. Charging extra for that service, he says, is just wrong.
"It sets a bad precedent," Riley says.
He's right. But this idea has been kicking around since last summer, and St. Andrew's PSD officials say they haven't had much blow back.
Yeah, but Jimmy Buffett's phone is ringing off the hook.
The PSD says it will bill insurance companies, some of which cover such fees on their policies. Don't hold your breath waiting on that check - it might lead to a costly fire department call.
The PSD has also promised that, although it is contracting with a third-party billing company (and how much will that set them back?) it will not turn over unpaid bills to collection agencies.
So why pay? Well, despite the PSD's magnanimous gesture, such an unpaid bill could affect your credit. And if the PSD isn't really going to make you pay, what is this really but a fund drive targeting accident victims?
Again, bad idea. This is a PSD, not PBS.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org
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