The Provo City Council says it made a mistake, and it corrected it Tuesday night. I'm not so sure the mistake wasn't in correcting the mistake.
Here's my case, and you decide for yourself.In August the council passed a resolution that set several fire department response fees - 11 to be exact. Among the new fees was a $500 charge for responding to a structure fire. Responding to a vehicle fire and extricating a victim from a car were services that would cost $200 each. A fee of $100 would be charged when a fire unit responded as backup to a vehicle accident.
The legislation was passed during a late-night meeting, and council members voted Tuesday to remove the four fees - saying they made a mistake when they passed the resolution. They said the legislation was "stupid" and "illegal."
Looking at this legislation, you can see a lot of problems. Hearing the council members' arguments, you can see a lot of reasons to do away with the fees.
Look at the legislation a little more thoughtfully, however, and you can see a lot of reasons for the fees. Analyze the council members' arguments a little more thoughtfully and you can see a lot of reasons for keeping the legislation.
Let's do that.
Council members said fire services should be covered by taxes residents pay. Putting a fee on services might make residents hesitant to seek the city's help in an emergency. When it comes to a life-and-death situation, paying a fee should never be an issue. Undoubtedly, the best argument to eliminate the fees.
Some council members also said the fees were illegal because they would mainly be charged to those who have insurance that covers the fees. Those without insurance who could prove a hardship would be exempt. Some would have to pay it out of their own pocket. Council members said this is illegal because it discriminates.
Not a good argument. Many laws, state and local, allow for hardship exemptions. The city's own recreational fees allow for hardships, and similar ambulance fees allow for hardships. Of course, we all know the story about school-fee waivers.
The administration's argument in wanting the fees is that it's a cost that would mostly be paid by insurance companies, not residents. And this is true. Most insurance policies have a clause to pay for the fees because most cities across the country have the fees. You and I already pay for it.
We all know that whether it be in the form of a fee or tax, most costs usually come back to the taxpayers. In this case, however, the costs could have come back to insurance companies. Now, taxpayers will have to come up with about $80,000 to replace the revenue the fees would have generated. And insurance companies will get a windfall because we'll continue to pay for the coverage but get no benefit. And don't think for one minute that insurance companies will reduce premiums because of the council's action.
If the council made a mistake when it approved the fees, then so did most every other major city in the state. Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Ogden, Sandy, West Valley City and several cities in Utah County have the same type of fees. Most major cities in the country have the same type of fees. And Provo still has its own ambulance service fees, which are no different. If the city made a mistake in passing the fire fees, then it also made a mistake in keeping the ambulance fees.
It's a close call, but the call's been made.