CHEROKEE COUNTY, S.C. --
The wording in a new ordinance in Cherokee County is "scary," according to a county council member.
The ordinance would allow fire departments to mail an itemized invoice to a person responsible for an incident that required service from firefighters. The recipient has 30 days to pay or face late fees and a court appearance.
Some of the fees detailed in the ordinance include $2,125 if firefighters have to provide traffic control so a medical helicopter can land. There's also a $1,835 charge if firefighters have to extricate an accident victim. That fee drops to $1,400 if the person is dead.
After getting swamped with complaints from citizens, a county council member who signed and adopted the ordinance realized it was wrong.
"I'll be one of the ones that takes the blame," said Tim Spencer, councilman from District 4. "We should've looked at it first. We did mess up but we are going to correct it."
The ordinance stems from a system Cherokee County fire departments put in place in 2007.
Taxes and county funding support the fire departments, but accidents often involve people not from Cherokee County. So some departments would send a request for reimbursement to the insurance company representing an out-of-towner who was responsible for accidents that required fire service in Cherokee County.
Insurance companies stopped paying because the county didn't have an ordinance about reimbursements, according to Josh Parker, president of the Cherokee County Fire Chiefs Association.
The County Council drafted the ordinance, but members said they signed and adopted it on Feb. 1 without actually reading it. They thought the wording only targeted insurance companies, but it actually targets everyone.
"It will be corrected and I'm very sorry," Spencer said.
As of now, the ordinance is not being enforced. The county council plans to meet Tuesday to either get rid of it or change the wording.
In the meantime, firefighters fear that people won't call 911 because they don't want to be billed for fire service.
"No one is going to get a bill whatsoever," said Parker. "You ain't gonna get nothing in the mail that says, 'Fire department responded to your house yesterday. Pay us $50.' You're not gonna get that. That's not gonna happen."
Firefighters and council members said their goal is only to get money from insurance companies, not citizens.
"We're there to help you and we're trying to save you money in the long run," Parker said.
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