One of the basic responsibilities of government is public safety. That's why taxes are used for police, fire and emergency medical services.
The St. Andrews Public Service District's decision to extract a "crash fee" from people who have received its emergency services appears to be a self-serving move to bring in money rather than a way to improve those basic services.
Further, it could erode the mutual aid agreement involving the St. Andrews PSD, James Island PSD, City of Charleston, City of North Charleston and St. John's Fire District. The purpose of that agreement is to have adequate, fast response to major fires, accidents and crimes. Jeopardizing that effort is a mistake.
How long will taxpayers in other districts consent to paying St. Andrews PSD a fee that no other entities receive?
And while St. Andrews PSD officials insist they will not "swoop in" to answer calls in order to collect fees, what would stop them from doing so? The fee would be charged whether St. Andrews actually provided services or simply appeared on the scene.
The crash fee, approved unanimously by the St. Andrews PSD on Monday, means drivers who live outside the district would have to pay the PSD a fee whenever its fire department responds to a motor vehicle accident.
It doesn't matter who is at fault. It doesn't matter if the accident is in North Charleston, on Johns Island or in the St. Andrews PSD. The St. Andrews PSD would charge a fee.
And the fee isn't inconsequential. Depending on which vehicles respond, it could be around $200 or more than $1,000. Most insurance companies do not pick up that part of the tab.
It looks like a way to get people who live in other cities and districts to pay more so that St. Andrews residents don't have to.
What is it about "mutual" that the PSD doesn't understand?
The St. Andrews PSD is trying to soft-peddle the crash fee by saying that it won't dun people whose insurance doesn't cover a crash fee.
Only the insurance companies will feel it, and "it won't be terrible for them," according to commission chairman Charlie Ledford.
But realistically, the cost of insurance will increase if the cost of settlements increases, and people will feel that in their wallets.
The St. Andrews PSD was quick to support the mutual aid agreement. All members face the same challenges that come with answering a heightened number of calls and covering associated costs. None of the others is considering a crash fee.
Further, district manager Christie Holderness herself said the PSD is "not in [financial] distress."
Jeff Griffith, who represents the Property Casualty Insurance Association of America, is not happy with the PSD's decision. He said 14 states have banned such fees, and he says S.C. lawmakers should consider doing the same.
Meanwhile, the St. Andrews PSD could stand to reflect on its fundamental roles instead of using a basic service to make money.
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