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Fire fees for areas surrounding Lowell city limits likely to increase

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Photographs by Jason Ivester

The Lowell Fire Department.

LOWELL -- Fees for fire department services outside the city limits may increase soon.

The Ordinance Committee voted Monday in favor of increasing the fees from $40 for residences and $50 for commercial to $75 for residential and $100 for businesses. The item will go before the City Council for a final decision.

"I think it could go up a bit," said Fire Chief Mike Morris. "It hasn't changed since July 2008."

Alderman Linda Vannoy asked if the fee change would not affect the city's voluntary tax. Morris clarified that the need was not a tax for residents but a separate fee for fire services that go beyond Lowell. The ordinance would allow the fire department to collect more from insurance claims.

"We bill about $20,000 a year for fire services outside the city," Morris said. The department gets about 120-150 calls from outside the city each year, making the cost of an average trip $133. Morris benchmarked numbers from surrounding cities before recommending the $75-$100 range for fees.

Director of Finance Jerry Hudlow said a change in the cost of fire fees would save him time. Sewer fees are also $40 per household, which makes it easy to label the wrong service in the city's system, he said.

"It's easy to mix them up," Hudlow said. "I'm spending 3-4 hours when it comes to fire fee times. If we even change it to $41 I would be happy."

Other committee members protested increasing fees by almost double. Some questioned what might happen if the bill goes unpaid. Morris said the Fire Department responds to each call whether or not the bill is paid.

Vannoy suggested the committee revisit the number each year for a more gradual change that residents might be more likely to agree with. Mayor Eldon Long said it would simply add to the ample complaints that the city is "always upping my fees," and countered with a suggestion of every five years.

"My problem is that we seem to wait until the final hour," Vannoy said, implying that it was the reason for such a drastic jump in fees.

"If they want [fire] service, I say come into the city," Alderman Dean Bitner said. Either way, I would "advocate for more [money] because it's costing us $133 for each trip. Or not sending an ambulance or fire truck outside the city."

Alderman Kendell Stucki suggested that $75 fee for residences and $100 fee for businesses might be the numbers they could all agree on, not as low as the previous $40 and $50, but not as high as the average trip. Members briefly discussed the appropriate cost gap between residential and commercial fees and then a majority voted in favor of the increase.

NW News on 09/12/2017

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