Cash strapped communities are looking for more and more ways to raise money. The latest: billing people for routine police services.
What this means is if an officer helps you or even just files a report on a fender bender, you can face a bill of hundreds of dollars.
Bad Day Gets Worse
Thelma Maser had a bad day, ending up in a fender bender with a truck.
But the dent along the side of this grandmother's car was nothing compared with the ding she got a few weeks later: a bill some now call a "crash tax."
Thelma told me "I got a letter that asked for damages, for recovery damages."
Worse, the city charged Thelma not $100, not $200, but a whopping $776 for the police to respond to her fender bender.
Thelma said "I was so shocked and surprised that they would charge because it wasn't anything out of their line of duty. I thought that was their duty!"
Charges on top of Charges
We looked at the bill, and found charge of:
- $462 for 3 police cruisers to respond to her fender bender
- $880 for 3 officers to direct traffic and file a report
- $234 for an "administrative," or apparently paperwork fee.
Thelma was stunned, saying no one was injured. She said "they just wrote a report and directed traffic, as I would think they would normally do."
More Communities Adding these Fees
But dozens of communities around the country are now charging non-residents like Thelma for police response, and more are jumping on this easy money bandwagon.
The councilman behind this new fee says the city can no longer afford the hundreds of dollars every police run costs.
North College Hill Council member Tom Graves told me "In these types of times, with serious economic issues that we are all experiencing, there are certain basic hidden costs that no one gives any consideration to."
However, he says:
- Only out-of-town drivers considered at-fault have to pay.
- City residents are not charged.
- People who are "victims" of an accident or crime, according to the police report, are not charged.
However, In many cases, insurance wont pay.
So what if you can't afford it? Tom Graves says they may forgive the bill in cases of hardship. Plus, he said, the law is unclear as to how or whether the city can pursue the bills. He said "in due time, if it's not paid, we'll have to do what everyone else does, and look the other way, I guess."
Graves says the city may be willing to give this grandmother a break.
So my advice: If you are hit with a big bill for police services, call the police department and ask if you can negotiate it down. No? Then escalate it to the town, village, or city.
Florida says "No"
Meantime, some cities and states are fighting back, after hundreds of complaints about these fees. The State of Florida took the biggest step last year, banning these fees completely. Other states are considering it.
And even the most cash strapped communities should give a break for hardship so you don't waste your money.
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