User fees

A shot in the arm for ailing budgets


     Consider this change. The police department guard downed lines, broken mains, etc. for a period of 30 minutes at no charge. Once dispatchers notify the utility of the emergency, it will be charged $100 per hour for guard service after 30 minutes has passed.

False alarm fees

     All departments are plagued by repetitive calls as the result of false alarms. Agencies not currently levying a charge for responding to these false alarms should begin so immediately.

     Some officials have been reluctant to impose such a charge because it can be difficult to collect. The remedy is to add overdue alarm charges to the owner's property tax bill and collect it as part of their taxes.

DUI cost recovery

     It takes many hours for arresting officers to process and record a drunken driving arrest. Asking the drunk to pay the costs of enforcement is reasonable.

     Some communities have each participating officer record their time spent on the arrest. When complete, the hours are totaled and multiplied times $100 per hour. The average amount recovered will be approximately $1,500 per arrest.

Special enforcement districts

     These are places requiring extraordinary police attention. In the suburban community, for example, examine at a large shopping center. It requires so much attention that it has been made a "district" by the local police department with officers assigned to patrol it.

     This shopping center is populated by profit-making businesses. Rather than hiring private security, the center relied on local police for enforcement, which often resulted in staffing shortages elsewhere in the city. The solution was to allow one incident requiring officer response per 24-hour period at no charge. Every response thereafter was billed at $200 each to the shopping center owner, who passed the charge along to retail store owners. As a result some stores hired private security to handle these matters.

     Today, there are fewer frivolous calls for service and these fees have generated hundreds of thousands in new revenue for this department.

Special assessment districts

     These are most likely entertainment districts within the community. They are generally a concentric, contiguous area that can be well served by foot patrol officers.

     Because alcohol is served, the business owners face a higher-than-normal percentage of people behaving badly. The affects of such behavior often can be mitigated by police presence.

     Here restaurants and taverns can agree to a "seat tax," that is an additional tax levied solely to fund added (and dedicated) police officers to patrol the district. One of the more creative approaches I've seen levied a $10 seat tax ($10 per year per seat as determined by the fire department occupancy permit).

     Depending on applicable state law, agencies may be able to have this added to business owners' annual property tax bills. Otherwise, it may be necessary to bill them separately.

Student enrollment tax

     This is yet another means to attach a fee to an entity that drives costs. In our example, a rural community is home to a small university with a total student population of approximately 5,000. Under state law, the college is exempt from local property taxes.

     However, the city public safety department was charged with providing police, fire and EMS services without any support from the school. The department was facing layoffs due to tight budget conditions. Its answer was to levy a tax on student enrollment ($10 per student per semester). The resulting revenue was $120,000 per year.

Accident investigation fees

     The costs of this service are provided at no charge on any crash where at least one of the participants is a community resident. However, in extensive investigations where no local citizen is involved, these costs can be billed to the insurance company of the at-fault driver. Simply add the total amount to the accident report provided to the insurance company.

     This list is not complete. Each police department and city has its own unique opportunities. Details are critical. Cooperation is vital. A change in the way police managers think about revenue is mandatory. However, the results are well worth the effort.

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