Business / Economy

Hollister Fire Department plans to collect ‘mitigation fees’

Regardless of any fee, according to officials, people should not hesitate to dial 911 in an emergency

The Hollister Fire Department has received the city council's blessing to start charging fees for non-medical responses.

City council members voted 3-2 Monday in favor of the first reading of Ordinance No. 1115, which permits the fire department to collect what officials dub "mitigation rates" for the deployment of both emergency and non-emergency services. Councilmen Victor Gomez and Karson Klauer opposed the idea. The item will come back before the council for final approval.

Officials in public session April 20 provided minimal detail on the mitigation-fee structure.

Hollister's fire personnel earns about $5.2 million per year. Beyond such salaries covered by taxpayers, San Benito County reserves rights to charge fees to cover the cost of any fire department service.

City Manager Bill Avera said that the Hollister Fire Department does its job — and does it well. Regardless of any fee, according to Avera, people in need of emergency services should immediately dial 911.

"The City of Hollister has no desire to charge any fee for any individual who has a medical condition and calls 911," said Avera. "This is not that case. Never hestitate to call 911."

Avera said that insurance companies have for years collected money for non-medical emergency services.

"I think that it's one of those 'industry secrets,'" he noted. "It's becoming a national standard for communities seeking to mitigate the costs of training and new equipment."

"How many people are running around without insurance right now?" said Mickie Luna, who later voted in favor of the ordinance. "I want to make sure that these fees are not being passed on to the person who is insured."

"I totally agree with you," said Interim Hollister Fire Chief Bill Garringer, in response to Luna. "We've been told that these funds have been collected on all of our auto insurances over the years. There's a fund that's built up; but if you were to look at your auto insurance bill, you wouldn't see it. It's kind of a hidden thing that they've been collecting the money for. Fire departments throughout the nation that have figured it out have gone after some of that money for incidents in which they could should show some negligence."

"There's a difference between negligence and gross negligence," said Marty Richman, a longtime resident of Hollister and frequent attendee of public meetings in San Benito County, in a statement to city council members. "You say that these fees are for equipment and you're going to charge me for the hours firemen are out there. I'm already paying for firemen to be out there."

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez noted that the fees aim to make people accountable for negligent actions.

"It's important that we hold people accountable," said Velazquez. "That's what the insurance is for. This is a big cost to our city. We pay 70 percent of our general fund for our fire department, which we need and are doing a great job. But some of these costs can be offset."

City Councilman Victor Gomez said that for the record, he did not support the ordinance.

"I already pay taxes," he said.

Jason McCormick

Jason McCormick is a journalist taking a break from news and now running mcormc corporation, a data driven digital marketing agency in Redding, Calif.