Firefighters watch as huge flames rise from an overturned tanker truck that burned along Route 27 near the Old Town Kayak business in Belgrade on Jan. 2. Morning Sentinel file photo

BELGRADE — If voters approve the development of a new ordinance, Belgrade Fire & Rescue may recover its costs when it responds to emergencies. 

A firefighter moves to pour water on a giant ball of fire erupting from an overturned tanker truck that burned along Route 27 in Belgrade on Jan. 2. Morning Sentinel file photo

Drafting the cost recovery ordinance for fire department services began after the department responded to a fiery crash involving a tanker truck and an SUV on Route 27 on Jan. 2. The truck was hauling 9,500 gallons of No. 2 fuel oil that became engulfed in flames after it overturned onto its side.

Had the ordinance been in effect, the fire and rescue department could have recovered $36,000 from the associated insurance companies for its services, said Town Manager Anthony Wilson. 

Instead, it only recovered a quarter of that, $9,000.

“With no ordinance,” said Wilson, “we were in no position to bargain.”

A final draft was approved by the Select Board on Dec. 4. Voters will have the final say whether the ordinance should go into effect during Town Meeting in March 2020. 

“We are trying to tap into a potential revenue source to help fund a fire department,” said Wilson. “That reduces the tax burden on the property owner.”

The town would not seek restitution for emergencies involving Belgrade taxpayers.

“We are not going to do that if the insured person is a Belgrade property taxpayer because that is a double whammy,” Wilson said. “They are already paying taxes to support the fire department.”

Two exceptions to this rule protecting taxpayers would be if the department has to respond to something related to an illegal burn or if the department has to respond to multiple false alarms due to faulty fire alarm system function that is not weather-related.

Wilson said that money will be collected from insurance companies, not private individuals or organizations.

Money collected will be used as revenue for the fire department and could be used to pay the salary of a second full-time fireman, Fire Chief Daniel MacKenzie said. The annual salary of that position would be $40,000 to $50,000.

It is too soon to say just how much the department could collect. If the ordinance is approved, MacKenzie said the department would have to establish rates for its coverage. 

The nature of the emergency, the number of responders, the time they responded and the number of trucks would all factor into how much could be recovered.

The town of Chelsea, according to its Fire Department Service Billing Ordinance established in 2015, charges $150 per hour for engine trucks, $150 per hour for squad trucks, and has a minimum call out fee of $300 just for the fire department to be sent to a scene.

“It could be a volatile revenue source,” said Wilson, “We might collect a lot one year, but little the next.”

Because the revenue cannot be counted on, he said the money would not be appropriated until the following budget year. 

Wilson and MacKenzie envision most of the recovery costs to be related to car accidents involving travelers passing through the town.

“The town will have authority and leeway to decide when we will pursue restitution and when we will not,” said Wilson. 

A private consultant would be contracted by the town to make the recovery, Wilson said. That consultant would take a portion of that collection as payment.

Fairfield Fire Chief Duane Bickford said that revenue generated from the cost recovery “has been very little.”

In the two years the town has had the ordinance, he said the department has only collected about $6,000, about $700-$1,000 per bill. 

The town responded to 123 car accidents in 2017 Bickford said. That means not many insurance companies are paying, and if it is just a fender-bender, there is no one to send the bill anyway.

“It is up to the insurance company to pay the bill,” he said. “If they don’t pay the bill, we do not pursue.”

Bickford said that the town collects both from residents and nonresidents, however, it only collects from car accidents. 

Though the revenue is not near the potential, it is still a revenue source and is not a hassle for the department, he said. 

“The department already has to write accident reports,” Bickford said, “the only extra step is to send that report to a third-party billing. They get 20% of what they recover, and they do not get anything if they do not recover.” 

According to Belgrade’s ordinance draft, costs that could be recovered from services include: 

• scene and safety control at traffic accidents;

• disentanglement operations and extrication rescues from vehicles;

• fluid and hazardous substance mitigation at traffic accidents;

• vehicle and equipment fires; and

• standby for utility lines in roadways.

The department would not be able to recover costs associated with aiding towns outside Belgrade. 

Along with Chelsea and Fairfield, other towns with ordinances include Albion, Etna, Randolph and West Gardiner, according to the Maine Municipal Association.

“Ordinances like this are not yet common in Maine,” said Eric Conrad, director of communication and educational services for the Maine Municipal Association. “We don’t think there’s a trend per se, at least not here in Maine.”

The draft of the ordinance presented to the select bBoard for approval can be viewed on the town’s website in the Dec. 3 agenda package.

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