Fire department re-inspection fees approved
At Monday night’s City Council meeting, an agenda item had to do with annual fire prevention inspection fees.
Two weeks ago, the City Council had asked the fire department for inspection data. Chief John Thomsen provided the data consisting of the average number of inspections and time spent on calls. Average dollar amounts were provided for medical units, fire engines, and trucks. For example, the cost for an engine company to be dispatched would be $85. A medical unit would be cheaper than a truck company. More likely than not, three employees accompany a dispatched vehicle.
Alderperson Anthony Nudo wanted to know if this was truly a recoup of costs. “It seems like a backwards play, patching the holes in a budget”, and he expressed his dislike for the ordinance. He stated that the city shouldn’t be using it as a revenue source. “Fire prevention and safety is an improvement for the entire community. Fire inspections prevent fires at a property. All benefit from fire inspections. This is a ‘money grab.’ What will be next?” he asked. “Charging people for police to attend Neighborhood Watch meetings? Charging people for increased patrols to prevent crime? This is a ‘slippery slope.’” He stated that he didn’t think it was legal, in his personal opinion.
Alderperson Daniel Prozanski confirmed that the fees would only be applied to re-inspection fees, not first-time inspections. Prozanski asked if there were other communities that have similar ordinances. Thomsen replied, “Yes; Green Bay, South Shore (Racine), Racine, Mt. Pleasant. This was researched a year ago.” Prozanski said that this was an interesting ‘money grab.’ He didn’t believe that these other communities were in violation of any law. ”There’s no evidence of that,” he said. ”This is in line with what people should be paying. Why should a person/taxpayer pay for reinspection of a violation? It’s called being responsible.” Prozanski and Alderperson Jan Michalski stated that they would be voting against the denial.
Alderpersonal G. John Ruffolo called it a “fire tax.” He stated that he felt that the ordinance was not clear. “There are three different prices for the same inspection. We wouldn’t necessarily charge differently based on which truck was sent out.”
Alderperson Michael Orth made a few minor changes to prevent ambiguity. Basically, the re-inspection fees would come after the State-mandated annual inspections. He also stated, “If a person doesn’t fix the violation, they’re not interested in safety. At a recent Public Safety and Welfare meeting, the fire inspectors told us that some businesses have tons of violations. Good-acting businesses shouldn’t be punished. We should be allowing a fee for repeatedly not addressing concerns. The State inspection is free; it’s paid for by all citizens.”
The motion on the floor to deny failed 5 to 10. Alderpersons G. John Ruffolo, Theodore Ruffalo, Anthony Nudo, Steve Bostrom, and David Bogdala were the dissenters.
Alderperson Anthony Kennedy wanted to make it perfectly clear for the people at home. “This is all smoke and mirrors,” he said. “People have said it’s illegal; it’s not. People have said it’s a ‘money grab;’ it’s not. The business climate is to be responsive. Members of this body don’t support decisions of this body; they’re still having a fight. He expressed his support for this ordinance. The fees should be borne by the businesses who are the serial abusers. This works a lot better, and I urge your support.”
Alderperson Theodore Ruffalo stated he wasn’t sure what Kennedy was talking about. “This is a funded mandate. Two percent (2%) of insurance premiums go towards inspections.”
The ordinance was approved, as amended with Alderperson Orth’s minor changes. The roll call vote was approval by a vote of 10 to 4 (Alderpersons Ruffolo, Nudo, Bostrom and Bogdala voted against).