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Sacramento’s controversial “crash tax” might come off the books as early as next week.
Councilman Jay Schenirer, who initially voted for the fire cost recovery ordinance that would bill non-resident drivers for emergency responses to accidents in which they are at fault, called for the ordinance’s repeal Tuesday night.
He took advantage of a scheduled vote to approve a contract with outside billing company Fire Recovery USA and said he wanted to change his vote.
“I do think at this point it’s the wrong ordinance for the city,” he said, adding that he has taken time to reflect on his previous decision, and said the recent awarding of $5.6 million in federal grants puts the Fire Department in “slightly better shape” financially.
Councilman Steve Cohn disagreed with Schenirer.
“Our budget situation is not better,” he said. “Let’s be honest about that.”
The city is projecting a budget shortfall of $35 million - $40 million.
City staff and Fire Recovery USA projected the Fire Department would recover about $300,000 annually through the ordinance.
Roseville’s city council recently repealed a similar ordinance because it did not provide as much funding as anticipated in the year and a half it was in effect.
Mike Rivera, chief business development officer for the Roseville-based Fire Recovery USA, said Tuesday he considered the $300,000 projection for Sacramento to be conservative.
He said the shortfall in Roseville’s funding outcome was due to projections within the city that did not pan out.
“They didn’t receive the funds forecast, but that was internal,” he said.
One of the vocal opponents of the original ordinance in Sacramento, Councilman Darrell Fong, told The Sacramento Press before the meeting Tuesday that he was going to vote against the contract with Fire Recovery USA, which needed a two-thirds majority vote to pass.
That vote, however, was shelved, pending the outcome of the ordinance’s possible repeal.
“I certainly support the notion of revisiting this, frankly, to kill it,” Councilman Rob Fong said. “I just think it’s bad policy.”
Councilwoman Angelique Ashby said she still supports the ordinance.
“I just don’t think it’s wise to take any funding stream off the table,” she said. “For me, the fire cost recovery has always been about protecting our residents.”
She added that some areas in North Natomas have a response time of more than 10 minutes due to station brownouts.
Despite being on the consent calendar, where non-controversial items are typically placed, Fire Department spokesman Capt. Jonathan Burgess said he wasn’t surprised by the outcome, as the issue has been controversial at every step.
“With the budget that we’re looking at facing in the next fiscal year, yeah, every amount of money that we can recover will definitely help in the event of potential possible brownouts,” he said.
The vote to bring the ordinance back to the City Council for repeal was a 5-4 decision, with Schenirer switching his vote to join Rob Fong, Darrell Fong, Bonnie Pannell and Sandy Sheedy in opposing it.
Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.