’Tax’ for car crash response is halted
But billed drivers aren’t off the hook
FLORIDA TODAY Staff • June 20, 2009
With little fanfare and no comment, Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill this week that bans local governments from charging the "crash tax."
West Melbourne will use Tuesday, the date Crist signed the bill, as the cutoff for its cost-recovery program, said Mike Helms, director of support services and police technology.
To be fair, the police department will try to collect from drivers charged before that date because the city’s cost-recovery ordinance was valid at the time it charged for the crashes, Helms said.
"To not charge somebody who hasn’t paid us would be detrimental to everyone that had paid us or their insurance paid," he said.
West Melbourne police billed $112,451 on 583 crashes that occurred between July, when they started collecting the fee, and May, the latest month for which data was available.
Of that total, drivers and their insurance companies have paid $17,617, police records show. Police plan to pursue $73,672 more. The rest is either in collections or was waived because drivers appealed the charge.
The measure sponsored by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, prohibits dozens of cash-strapped local governments from charging crash victims for police and firefighter response. Fees range from $180 to $200 for police response and $600 to $800 for fire departments.
It and a companion measure in the Florida House by Rep. Nick Thompson, R-Fort Myers, were opposed by police chiefs, the Florida League of Cities and firefighters.
The Cocoa Fire Department will use the cutoff date of July 1, the day the law takes effect, and will continue seeking collections of the crash tax, according to Chief Fran Murphy.
The department began charging crash fees in March 2007. Of about $144,000 in bills sent to insurance companies and at-fault motorists, about $29,000 has been collected.
Collecting the fees has been so difficult that the Cocoa City Council passed an ordinance in February that allows the department to pass the job on to a collection agencies.
FLORIDA TODAY staff reporters Jim Ash, Susanne Cervenka and Rebecca Basu contributed to this report.