The St. Andrews Public Service District will hold off indefinitely on charging a fee for responding to motor vehicle accidents.
At Monday's meeting, Fire Chief Mark Schrade announced that enforcement of the Motor Vehicle Accident Service Fee, also known as a "crash tax," will be held in abeyance until further notice. District Manager Christie Holderness declined Tuesday to discuss the postponement.
"We are currently in the middle of budget with many other projects on our plate that require the attention of the chief, my staff and myself," Holderness said.
After several months of discussion and delays, the Public Service District commission unanimously approved the fee of up to $1,000 at its May 5 meeting.
The commission did not weigh in on Schrade's announcement Monday.
Under the law, whenever the district responds to accidents, it can bill out-of-district drivers, regardless of whether they are within its limits or who is at fault. The charges range from $300 to more than $1,000, depending on which emergency vehicles respond.
Three days after the district approved the fee, the city of North Charleston issued a warning to St. Andrews that the mutual aid agreement between the departments could suffer if the district enforced the fee. The district also has a mutual aid agreement with James Island Public Service District, city of Charleston and St. John's Fire District.
Members of the insurance industry said the fee is not generally covered by standard policies and could cause insurance rates to rise.
The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America hailed Monday's announcement as a victory.
"PCI is pleased with the chief's announcement to postpone the crash tax for now," said Regional Manager Oyango Snell. "While we are sympathetic to local officials looking for ways to increase revenue without raising taxes, this implementation of a crash tax is not the right answer."
District officials have said that if insurance companies do not cover the fee and drivers refuse to pay, they will not turn it over to a collection agency.
The move is necessary because the district's call volume has increased from less than 1,000 calls in 2009 to almost 5,300 in 2013 due to the mutual aid agreement, which calls for them to be simultaneously dispatched with the four other departments. The district relies solely on property taxes to fund its operations, Holderness said.
Thirty departments in South Carolina currently charge such a fee, district officials said. Dorchester County also has been discussing it.
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