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Davis

Davis, California

Friday, October 22, 2021

Sacramento stalls crash tax

Sacramento city council will be reconsidering its recently approved “crash tax.”

The council voted 5 to 4 on Tuesday to revisit the “crash tax” for a
possible repeal. The ordinance would have charged out-of-town drivers
for getting into accidents that require fire services while driving in
Sacramento.

The tax was passed with a 5 to 4 vote last month. It was to go into effect at the end of February.

“Since then, I have had a lot of time to reflect on the policy,” said
councilmember Jay Schenirer, who initially voted to approve the
ordinance. “I don’t think that this is the right policy for us.”

Schenirer asked the council to place an item on the agenda some time in the upcoming weeks.

The councilmember also motioned to suspend the approval of the billing
service to be used for the crash tax, which the council was scheduled to
approve on Tuesday. The Roseville-based Fire Recovery USA would have
been used as a third-party service to collect fees.

The council’s decision comes at the heels of a newly acquired federal grant.

The Sacramento fire department received $5.6 million from the Staffing
for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant in February. The
money will be allocated over two years and is planned for the use of
hiring 27 firefighters for the city.

“It will alleviate two brownouts that we currently have,” said Ray Jones, SFD fire chief, during a Feb. 24 press conference.

A “brownout” is when a fire truck or engine is deliberately taken out
of service to save on costs. The city currently has two stations that
are in brownout.

The brownouts have increased the response time
for the fire department throughout the city. Councilmember Angelique
Ashby said that the response time in her district can be more than 10
minutes.

“[There are calls in the district] where it is literally
too late, and firefighters are injured,” Ashby said. “I have had to
tell residents whose homes are burned partially down that we, the city
of Sacramento, cannot issue them a rebuild permit.”

The SAFER grant would relieve the city of brownouts, but it would not completely alleviate the budget deficit.

“The fire cost recovery fee is to prevent brownout of a third and
fourth company,” said Councilmember Steve Cohn. “After receiving that
grant, if we don’t have [the crash tax] in place… we will be faced with
closing or browning out two companies.”

The crash tax, which
would charge a minimum fine of $435 for accidents caused by out-of-town
drivers, was expected to save SFD up to $500,000 in recovery costs.

James Butler, head of the city fire union, said that the tax would only help the department’s financial troubles.

“We’ve been down this road plenty of times,” Butler said. “We still
have a $35 to 40 million deficit, and with two companies closed, it
doesn’t look like it’s getting any better.”

Councilmember Ashby supported the crash tax.

“I just don’t think it’s wise to take any funding stream off the
table,” said Ashby. “The fire cost recovery has always been about
protecting residents of the city of Sacramento.”

SARAHNI PECSON can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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