Texas city set to charge drivers for first-responder services

Missouri City, Texas, isn't alone in asking drivers to pick up the tab for emergency services they receive by using a 'crash tax.' The practice is becoming increasingly common throughout the United States.

Missouri City, Texas, drivers may want to make sure they keep their eyes on the road. If they're involved in an accident, they could be facing more than just repair fees and insurance hikes, even if the other party is found at fault.

Starting March 1, the Missouri City Fire Department will impose a "crash tax" of as much as $2,000 for drivers who've been involved in an accident and are helped by first responders, KHOU reports.

Even if motorists don’t call first responders, they'll be charged the fee if authorities show up.

City officials and the fire department hope the new charge will help plug the city's budget deficit, and believe the duty will be picked up by the driver's insurance.

In the past, according to NBC News, insurance companies have refused to pay for first responders. Insurers cover vehicular damages and medical fees related to the collision, but they say responder costs are outside of their domain. When they refuse to pay, the individual is usually saddled with the bill, which typically costs a few hundred dollars. At this point, they're contacted by a collection company hired by the municipality.

Insurance companies have cried foul with districts who assume they'll pick up the fees, which are becoming increasingly common across the United States. According to Fox News, different variations of "crash taxes" exist in 50 cities in 26 states.

By imposing these taxes, city governments are taxing citizens double, insurers claim, saying first responder fees are already covered by local taxes.

"It’s our belief that responding to investigative accidents is a function of police and fire departments supported by local taxes,” Joe Thesing, assistant vice president-state affairs with the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, told NBC News.

Thesing added that he believes third-party collection agencies are duping cities and towns into thinking that insurance companies can help shrink their expanding deficits. The taxes began appearing with increased regularity around 2006-2007 when the U.S. economy began to falter and municipalities found themselves struggling to pay for police and fire services.

Regina Moore Jones, president of Cost Recovery Corp., which has contracts with hundreds of municipalities in 16 states, says her company does not bill innocent drivers. Instead, she told NBC News, the company only invoices negligent drivers.

"We never bill for an 'accident.' There has to be some sort of negligence. There's never a victim that's ever assessed a fee," she said.

"Tax dollars should be used for core services. Core services do not include subsidizing for negligence," she added.

Like New York City residents and politicians who squashed a 2010 proposal to charge drivers as much as $495 for emergency response services, Missouri City locals have expressed outrage with their town's new tax.

"That really ticks me,” Missouri City resident Meredith Johnson told KHOU. "I can't believe that. That's crazy!"

Missouri City Fire Chief Russell Sander assured residents that no one would be coming to their homes to collect money. He says insurance companies would cover the "crash taxes."

"I don't think they're going to see much differences in our services or their cost that's out of their pocket,” Sander told KHOU.

According to Fox News, bills to prevent crash victims from paying for emergency services have been passed in 10 states. Oceanside, Calif., decided in 2010 to repeal a measure that charged out-of-town drivers for responder fees.

"We're talking about a program that hasn't worked, that isn't successful and has hurt us," Councilman Jerry Kern told The San Diego Union-Tribune. "I think for PR alone, we should drop this program and tell people we welcome them to this city."

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