Each budget season local governments across the USA look for ways to fund essential services. According to the Minneapolis STAR-TRIBUNE there is a move to charge fees to tax-exempt properties ranging from churches, and hospitals to government agencies and institutions of higher learning. In Boise the most glaring example of free city services lies with the Fire Department.
In 2012 Boise FD provided more than 200 emergency responses to Boise State University free of charge, however Boise coppers are paid to provide police services. At the University of Idaho in Moscow the school pays $74,000 a year to the local all-volunteer department and even tossed in half the cost of a ladder truck under an older agreement.
While Boise gives a free ride to BSU and the entire state Capitol Mall complex, they get $61,000 a year for protecting the U.S. Courthouse on Fort St.
Saint Lukes and St. Als hospitals qualify as “frequent flyers” with the number of responses by the Department, but neither pays for the service since they qualify as non-profit. But when it comes to building permits and impact fees, the medical facilities pay the same as any other consumer. The city loves those big expensive projects because they pay well. Simply put, there is no standard policy of what is free and what is paid.
A few years ago Chief Dennis Doan got the city council to agree on some contract deals which saw Boise FD taking over the North Ada County Fire And Rescue as well as the Whitney Rural fire district on the southeast side of town. Both deals were great for the rural agencies, but Boise ends up providing better service than the rural districts previously had for the same price. The station on Chinden owned by NACFAR no longer is staffed, increasing the response times to the commercial areas of Chinden and Fairview which it previously covered.
Meanwhile the BFD is stretched across an area of nearly 30 miles from the Elmore County line on the East to the Boise County line on the northwest. There is a modest arrangement between BFD and Idaho Transportation Department for responding to car fires on I-84 east. It is “incident based.” During 2012, BFD records show $2125 was billed to ITD for two calls. ITD told the GUARDIAN they had paid for three calls for a total of $1099. If the figures are correct, it means the state has paid about half the amount they were billed.
The eastern service boundary is at least 13 miles outside the city limits. Ada 911 dispatch records indicate the BFD rolled on 49 medical calls (automobile accidents) during 2012 that were outside the city limits on I-84 east…all at the expense of Boise taxpayers. Those runs are hard on equipment–like the engine that got smacked while parked at the scene of a crash in the past 10 days. The rig is out of service and the exact cost of repairs is currently being estimated. ITD refuses any liability for responses in its agreement with BFD and the Ada County EMS people tell us they are not sure if they can bill via insurance claims for the BFD assistance.
The GUARDIAN thinks its time for State, City, and County administrators to closely examine the policies of providing services outside the taxing unit’s boundaries. Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to foot the bill for routine coverage outside their district.
City Councilors should revisit the economics of rural service contracts at the expense of city taxpayers. If hospitals and churches pay for building permits, they should pay for fire service to protect those buildings. County Commishes are obligated to provide EMS ambulance service county-wide, but they should pay for the city fire units that respond outside the city.
BSU and the State of Idaho should take a lesson from the Feds and the U of I and pony up some cash to Boise. It is an unfair burden for Boise taxpayers to protect massive offices and dormitories. If everyone from Sandpoint to Franklin paid just a few cents extra, it would cover the cost of responses to THEIR buildings.
We understand there is no requirement for the tax exempt folks to pay, but “its the right thing to do.”
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