TRAVERSE CITY — The budget-strapped Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department will begin putting heat on non-residents whose insurance companies don’t pay for emergency responses to car accidents or other incidents.
Metro Fire officials previously wrote off non-payment by insurers as a loss. But township representatives from Acme, East Bay, and Garfield townships who oversee the fire agency recently adopted the policy change.
Metro’s fire board approved two form letters. The first encourages individuals to contact their insurance company about paying the bill. But the second letter to non-residents informs them they are responsible for the bill and payment will be pursued.
“Every department in the country is trying to find revenue to support operations,” said Metro Fire Chief Pat Parker. “Budgets are tight and our revenue from the townships’ (property tax) is lower than it was in 2008.”
Meto charges $1,000 to respond to a fire, plus $43 per firefighter. It charges $425 to respond to a single-car accident, plus $50 to clean up spills, and $950 for a multiple car accident. If firefighters have to extricate a victim from a vehicle, the price jumps to $925.
Chuck Korn, Garfield Township supervisor and chairman of the fire board, said the new zeal for pursuing bills is more about prompting insurance companies to pay than propping up the budget.
The fire department billed over $82,000 for 191 incidents thus far in 2013, but received just $40,000 in return.
“When you send these letters to people they tend to call their insurance companies and then we get paid,” Korn said.
But fire board members told Parker they want to go one step further than letters for people who don’t live or own property in one of the townships.
“The board is saying these are people who don’t pay taxes,” Parker said. “They are using our services, and their insurance company doesn’t pay, so the board wants us to go after them.
“Does that mean going to small claims or going to collections? That hasn’t been determined,” Parker said.
Most area fire departments do some sort of cost recovery because it’s generally a covered charge in homeowners and auto insurance policies. But several said they’d rather write off costs than take someone to collections or court.
“We try to bill the insurance companies and if we don’t get paid for it we don’t go after the individual,” said Pat Pahl, Blair Township supervisor. “It’s not worth going after somebody for $500.”