This is the local TV report that started it all – on Sacramento’s CBS 13:
TV Anchor: “Dialing 911 will cost hundreds of dollars in one local city for residents. Laura Cole has more about the rising cost of safety in Tracy.”
The reporter went on to say, if you have a medical emergency, get out your wallet – but that detail kinda got lost in the media frenzy. Stories about a “911 fee” turned up nationally and online. And calls poured into Tracy City Hall, forcing a scramble to clear things up:
Bramell: “It’s NOT – it is in fact NOT a 911 fee.”
That’s the city’s acting Fire Chief, David Bramell.
Bramell: “It’s been kind of misconstrued as, someone calls 911, and they’re gonna get charged this $300. That’s not it at all.”
So what is it, then?
Bramell: “If you have a medical emergency and call 911 and we render service, you’ll be subject to be billed.”
So – if you’re mugged, or your house is on fire, no charge. If you have a heart attack, and paramedics in the fire department help keep you alive, the city will send you a bill: $300 for each call for Tracy residents, $400 for out-of-towners. Residents and businesses can also pay much smaller annual fees for unlimited service. Bramell says the lion’s share of 911 calls to the fire department are now for medical emergencies – and these days, that’s expensive.
Bramell: “The obligation to provide an advanced life support level of service isn’t currently covered through the normal tax structure.”
Deli Clerk: “Okay, $4.36 is your change. And you have a good afternoon.”
Customer: “Thank you.”
Gerard’s Deli is a popular lunch spot in Tracy. Smells of soups and sandwiches mesh nicely with the sports jerseys, photos and hundreds of business cards that line the walls. Customers Natalie Saenz and Rosie are both young Tracy residents – and neither one likes the new fee.
Saenz: “It just seems kind of ridiculous. Cause it’s – we’ve never had to think about being charged for something like that, that we just should have.”
Gutierrez: “Well, isn’t that what our taxes are paying for?”
Gutierrez: “So why should we have to pay extra?
A few others I spoke with agreed – but not everyone. Here’s Tracy resident Ed Ramirez:
Ramirez: “I’d rather pay the extra fee and know that it’s fair and equitable for the community at large. I guess I don’t really have a problem with it.”
Nor is Tracy the first city to try this idea out. Several Southern California cities charge similar fees – including Anaheim, whose program started back in 1985. Tracy’s fees will go into effect in the next month or two; the city hopes to bring in around $650,000 to help bridge a $9 million budget gap.