(File Photo – London Free Press)

Charging Londoners a “user fee” when firefighters battle a blaze at their property? It’s a bad idea that should burn to ashes, city bureaucrats say.

City staff have studied the controversial idea — London taxpayers bankroll the London fire department to the tune of $56-million annually — and recommend against charging fees for fire calls, a practice some Ontario cities have adopted.

“I already pay property taxes,” said Coun. Mo Salih, chair of council’s community and protective services committee that will debate staff’s report on the matter Tuesday.

“Why should I pay it twice?”

City staff clearly agree, noting sending a bill to someone who’s suffered through a house fire would produce negligible revenue (estimated between $43,000 and $142,000 yearly).

It could also create major safety issues, the staff report adds. “Property owners may become reluctant to call the fire department in an emergency situation for fear of incurring a fee,” they write.

Firefighting is a bulwark of municipal services, and a key part of what homeowners expect when they pay their annual property taxes. But that hasn’t stopped some communities from charging residents who have suffered through house fires.

According to the staff report, Kitchener, Oshawa, Guelph and North Bay are among the Ontario cities that impose such fees.

The London fire department does bill for certain calls, such as false fire alarms and attendance at car crashes involving non-­residents of London. But this option would make house fires a source of revenue, and city staff strongly discourage council from doing so. Salih sees it the same way.

“I don’t think we should collect user fees,” he said.

pmaloney@postmedia.com
twitter.com/patatLFPress

Source: Fee for fires likely to get snuffed out | The London Free Press