North Charleston threatens break with St. Andrews PSD over emergency response feeSt. Andrews OKs charging out-of-district drivers for wrecks Crash fee would be disservice

North Charleston elected officials warned Thursday night that the city's mutual-aid agreement with St. Andrews Public Service District could suffer if the PSD proceeds with a plan to bill nonresidents for emergency services.

Mayor Keith Summey said that the city will inform the PSD that its assistance on fire and EMS calls is no longer needed if the district does not drop the proposal.

"It's just a sad state of affairs. You don't take advantage of people," Summey said.

The mayor said the city would still offer back-up to the PSD on fire calls.

Council members Bob King and Todd Olds expressed support for Summey's position on the PSD aid agreement.

The PSD Commission on Monday voted in favor of a Motor Vehicle Accident Service Fee that would let the district charge drivers who live outside the district, regardless of whether they are at fault, if the district's fire department responds to a motor vehicle accident.

"This is just bizarre to me," Olds said of the PSD proposal.

King, who chairs the Council Public Safety Committee, said he would recommend at the committee's meeting next Thursday that the city sever all ties with the PSD unless it reverses course on the issue.

"You've got to play hardball with them," King said.

Under the new plan, the PSD could charge for responding to accidents in the district or in any of the districts with which it has a mutual aid agreement: James Island Public Service District, City of Charleston, City of North Charleston and St. John's Fire District. The fee is for the response that the district fire department provides.

The proposed PSD fee, commonly known as a "crash fee" or "crash tax," is estimated to range from a few hundred dollars to more than a thousand depending on which emergency vehicles respond. Thirty departments in South Carolina currently charge such a fee, officials said.

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 to help with fires and other emergencies, the PSD said.

The fee has been controversial because insurance representatives said the fee is generally not covered under standard policies.

Summey spoke out on the issue at the end of a Council meeting following a unanimous vote to uphold revocation of the business license for Camouflage Grille, a Dorchester Road nightspot that officials said has been the source of numerous police calls for alleged crimes ranging from drug offenses to attempted murder. The Council vote on the license happened without comment. The club had appealed the city decision to Council.