Warren considers emergency cost recovery law

Trench collapse rescues, hazardous materials spills and fires involving medical marijuana are among the emergencies for which the city of Warren soon may seek recovery of personnel and equipment costs.

City officials have given preliminary approval to a proposed ordinance that would authorize attorneys or collection agents acting on Warrens behalf to pursue individuals and companies for the citys expenses of first responders and materials.

Warren City Council members recently voted unanimously to pass the first reading of the measure.

A local cost-recovery law was drafted by city attorneys in 2011, but the measure faded without final approval. Still, the city initiated some cost recovery efforts after individual emergencies. For example, Warren recouped its share of costs in a couple of incidents where the fire department offered help to other local communities under mutual aid agreements. Among those was a rescue effort at a collapsed trench in Grosse Pointe and a hazardous material incident in neighboring Roseville.


Warren Fire Commissioner Wilburt Skip McAdams said the initial use of the new ordinance will be to recover costs incurred when first responders are forced to stand by at downed live electrical lines until DTE Energy arrives. McAdams noted dangerous weather such as powerful winds, heavy snow and ice cause damage without regard to municipal borders, utility companies are mindful of boundaries. He said the utility firms will respond first to communities that have cost recovery ordinances on the books over those that do not — even if the same outage spreads across both sides of a boundary of neighboring communities — in order to minimize the bill they may get.

We just witnessed that in Eastpointe which has cost recovery steps, McAdams said Wednesday. One of my crews could literally see the DTE crew (coming). They kept right on driving to Eastpointe.

We (guard) downed wires for hours.

Officials also plan to emphasize cost recovery against individuals convicted of crimes that triggered emergency responses.

The measure would allow Macomb Countys most-populated city to also recover first-responder costs for:

Building collapses

Serious car accidents

Fires caused by fireworks

Harboring dangerous or exotic animals, including finding those that escape

Negligent use of a fire pit, bonfire or barbecue

Activating a false fire alarm.

The recoverable costs include the pay and fringe benefits costs of city employees; use of Fire Department rigs and equipment including replacement when repairs cannot be made; laboratory tests; site monitoring and cleanup; investigative expenses; legal fees; and several more.

Individuals, companies or other entities billed for the service could appeal to the City Council for reconsideration. The city may place a lien on the property of those who fail to pay.

Although the proposed ordinance empowers Warren to recoup costs in a variety of emergencies, city officials dont intend to immediately seek reimbursement from every individual or business thats at fault for a preventable incident. McAdams said the city may seek reimbursement of manpower and equipment costs involving some house fires. However, the citys top fire administrator said officials will review most incidents individually.

The fire chiefs that have done this apply it to absentee landlords who have rental properties in their communities, McAdams said.

Some Warren council members questioned whether residents and business owners should be billed for service already funded by paying property taxes.

Last week, council President Cecil St. Pierre emphasized Warren officials should recoup city costs by targeting the insurance coverage carried by companies responsible for hazardous material discharges.

As you can tell, I dont like insurance companies, said St. Pierre, an attorney. I want them to make sure they pay for everything they try to protect and we should be the beneficiaries because were protecting property.

Councilman Scott Stevens suggested the city should not pursue reimbursement via insurance policies in every instance or isolated ones because that could result in higher premiums for local businesses.

If its just one incidental thing, I dont think we should have a right to be charging them, because theyre paying taxes, Stevens said at the July 25 council meeting.

A second reading of the cost recovery ordinance has not been scheduled. Passage appears likely.

Its not a money grab, McAdams told The Macomb Daily Wednesday. Its not an attempt to generate revenue.

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