City passes ordinance to charge fee for interstate crashes

Beginning July 1, residents outside Champaign County that are involved in a car accident on Interstate 74 will be charged a fee for the emergency response assistance provided by the Urbana Fire Department.

Urbana City Councilmember Dennis P. Roberts said that the expanded definition of who will and will not be covered will save the city of Urbana’s taxpayers money.

“When the fire department responds,” Roberts said, “they need to send trucks and other equipment. The charge is an hourly fee, and it can become very costly depending on the amount of time the emergency response takes.”

According to the City of Urbana ordinance which will put these fees into effect, the term “non-resident” is defined as any person “who does not own or rent a residence in the cities of Urbana or Champaign, Illinois for a minimum period of at least six (6) months out of the last twelve (12) calendar months prior to the date of services.” This means that students at the University who rent or own an apartment, house, or other living facility on campus will not be charged this new fee.

The amount of money needed for an emergency response call is pretty expensive, Roberts said.

The total amount that the new fee will save the taxpayers of Urbana between $30 thousand and $40 thousand, said Urbana City Attorney Ronald O’Neal.

According to the city ordinance, the rate of the emergency response service fee will be set in the City of Urbana Fee schedule by July 1.

“The charge for the emergency response for the out-of-county resident,” O’Neal said, “is typically covered by their insurance company. There is no certainty that an insurance company will cover the costs. It is up to someone’s individual policy.”

The new fee for out-of-county residents will be put in place as a way to battle the economic downturn and similar fees are enacted in many other communities, O’Neal said.

“If an accident happens on I-74 in Urbana’s jurisdiction the city fire department will be happy to lend it’s support, but the service will no longer have to come from the taxpayers pocket,” O’Neal said.

Urbana fire division Chief Tony Foster said that this plan has been worked on for awhile.

“We did quite a bit of research,” Foster said, “on how to generate revenue outside of the tax base.”

Foster said that this new fee will most likely not greatly affect out-of-county residents.

“On average,” Foster said, “we receive less than 20 calls a year that call for the emergency response services on the interstate. The majority of which have not been out-of-county residents. Considering we respond to 4,000 calls a year, 20 accidents on the interstate does not make up a large portion of our services.”

The money needed by the fire department to respond is primarily allocated to the cost of manpower and the cost of equipment, Foster said.

“In the event of a car accident,” Foster said, “the fire department may have to require the extrication of a person from their vehicle. At least two fire trucks are sent to the scene with those capabilities.”