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Peoria Fire fees would save fire jobs, but cost non-residents more

You could soon pay a fee for emergency services in Peoria if the city council approves the plan.

Those fees would be imposed by the fire department as a way to regain money spent on several services that fall outside of what’s covered by tax dollars.

To take a closer look at the breakdown of some of those tax dollars, for ever $1 spent in Peoria, the city keeps 12 cents, however the fire department only get three; 3.75 cents to be exact.

Peoria Fire Chief Ed Olehy, along with several city leaders say that amount is simply not enough to continue running an efficient operation. Thus, this proposal was born.

Olehy explains it costs roughly 19 million dollars annually to run the department and as it stands now, the city budget just cannot keep up.

“On a $1,000 tax bill, we’re getting $37 dollars, which is not a lot.” Olehy outlines.

City taxes cover several emergencies, including house fires, but there’s currently no charge for medical calls, which make up the large portion of emergency dispatches.

To bridge the financial gap, are proposed ‘Mitigation Rates, which would recoup roughly $200,000 for Peoria Fire each year.

Those rates are broken down into levels or categories, associated with motor vehicle accidents. They include fluid based accidents, non fluid based accidents, vehicle fires and vehicle extrication to name a few, but makes clear, the fees will not be directed at or added onto fire responses.

The fees are billed to whomever is found at fault for an accident and rather than going directly to the individual, it’s billed to their insurance, though Peoria City Councilman Chuck Grayeb says, there’s no difference.

Not holding back his sarcasm, Grayeb offered air quotes stating “Insurance is gonna pay for it….no no no. Insurance doesn’t pay for anything. We the people, who pay the insurance companies…the premiums, pay for everything!”

Under the proposal, for River City residents, what insurance doesn’t cover, is forgiven. The figurative ‘cost’ to the individual would come in the form of possible hiked rates after filing an insurance claim.

But if you live outside Peoria, you’re responsible for whatever tab insurance doesn’t pick up. This is something Grayeb says could deter non-residents from coming into the city and spending their tax dollars.

“If someone comes to Peoria and they’re involved in an accident, we shouldn’t be treating them this way.” he stated.

Despite his position on the matter, Chief Olehy remains sympathetic. In fact, a Peoria resident himself, he acknowledged mounting frustrations over the idea of any additional city fees, but he also explained the proposal isn’t a novelty idea.

“Hundreds of places across the state and across the country do this. If [people] get in an accident in those cities, they’re going to get a bill for it. People are already paying this into their insurance companies right now, so either their insurance company keeps it, or pays it out to the fire department. I just feel that we should be able to recover that money to help offset some of the costs of the fire department.” Olehy explained this is simply about outting much needed money back into the fire department’s budget.

The Chief also broke down the specifics of how that $200,000 translates into man power, adding that it costs the department nearly $100,000 per firefighter for the year.

He says while the overall dollar amount gained may not seem like much, it takes a minimum three firefighters to deploy an engine. In an emergency, that makes a huge difference. In fact, he explained, it’s the difference between having to take a piece of equipment out of commission, which in turn means a risk to public safety.

Grayeb continuously called it a non-starter. “It’s going to blow up and it’s going to blow up right in our faces because it wasn’t thought out well and I won’t support it.”

Despite his critiques of the proposal, Grayeb says the Peoria Fire Department has been the city’s whipping boy for budget talks, constantly forced to carry the burden of finding ways to operate with less money.

Grayeb acknowledged how well the Peoria Fire Department operates, especially given the cut back of resources, but expects other city departments to share that responsibility.

He’s urging City Manager Patrick Urich and other leaders, along with his fellow council members, not to support this proposal and to return to the drawing board for a more viable solution.

A first reading of the measure is expected to go before council Tuesday and an actual vote is scheduled for the end of the month.

Here’s a glimpse at how some of the fees are broken down. Read the full proposed ordinance here. 


Lauren Melendez

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