Board ponders fire response fee

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Monticello aldermen Tuesday discussed a possible policy tocharge city and county residents a fee when the fire department iscalled to extinguish a grass fire.

Following the discussion, Mayor Dave Nichols was asked topresent a detailed policy to the board in two weeks for furtherdebate.

Nichols said he suggested the plan because of the sheer numberof grass fire calls the fire department has responded to recently.In several cases, he said, the department has responded numeroustimes to the same address when a landowner has continuallyattempted to burn trash and debris in unfavorable weatherconditions.

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“This is caused by people being careless,” Nichols said.

The state allows fire departments to charge a fee of up to $500for grass fire responses, he said.

“I agree with you in principle, but I’m not certain it’spractical,” said Ward Four Alderman Kevin Garrett.

Nichols said the billing would only occur when fires are causedby property owners burning trash and debris and the blaze gets outof control.

A majority of the grass fire calls are caused by residentsburning trash and debris when weather conditions are unfavorable,such as high wind or dry conditions.

The mayor originally proposed that town residents would beallowed one free grass fire call, but county residents, which insome cases still fall within the town department’s district, wouldbe charged a fee.

“We don’t get enough (from the county) to cover the calls wemake in the county,” Nichols said. “The citizens of Monticello arepaying for the bulk of this budget.”

The fire department receives $26,000 annually from the county.The department’s budget is nearly $200,000.

After further debate, Nichols suggested extending the free callpolicy to all residents.

Aldermen nominally agreed to the plan, but urged the mayor toinclude wording that the fee would only be warranted when there wasa “blatant disregard for weather conditions.”