New Mexico mayor's plan would charge for emergency costs

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ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (AP) — A New Mexico mayor has proposed billing some drivers who are involved in car accidents resulting in hazardous material cleanup or victim extractions as a way to pay for more emergency rescue personnel in the state's largest city.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller's budget proposal for fiscal year 2020 includes a new "cost recovery" measure that would allow the city to pass the cost of complicated accident situations directly to those who require them or their insurance companies.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Saturday that the proposed update of the fire code ordinance would allow the city to bill the responsible party's insurance company. Those without insurance could be billed directly.

Fees would range from $400 for hazard mitigation and cleanup to $1,305 for the use of special tools and equipment to remove victims from vehicles.

Officials say the department could also bill $400 per hour for additional time at accident scenes.

"The focus will be on billing insurance companies and not the citizens living within the metropolitan area," Keller wrote City Council President Klarissa Pena this month explaining the plan.

If approved, city officials estimate the change could net about $1 million, which would cover a dozen additional positions for Albuquerque Fire Rescue.

Such emergency response fees have drawn criticism in other communities, with opponents arguing that citizens already pay taxes for such services. Missouri and Arkansas are among the states that have banned charges like the one proposed in Albuquerque.

Elsewhere, the practice has become commonplace and private companies have popped up to provide the associated billing services.

As proposed, Albuquerque's fire chief would have discretion to waive or reduce the amount of an invoice if the recipient can demonstrate financial hardship or inability to pay.

City Councilor Brad Winter had questions about whether the plan could potentially increase residents' insurance rates.

"There's going to be a lot of discussion and debate when it does come to council," Winter said.


Information from: Albuquerque Journal,

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