The city of Lyndhurst, Ohio, surprised a Euclid woman recently when it sent her a bill for police cars and personnel that responded to a minor traffic accident in which she had been involved.
Grace Jones told WJW News she thought she was doing the right thing when she called officers to the scene after she ran into the back of another motorist’s car at an intersection.
“The light turned green, so we all started rolling ahead and then I look up and the brake lights are on and they’re like, slammed on. So, I slam on my brakes to try and slow down and I bump into her rear end,” she said.
She called the police, they responded and filled out the proper paperwork and cited Jones for not keeping the proper distance between her and the car she hit. Then, a few days later, she received a $584.87 bill for emergency services rendered to a non-resident of Lyndhurst.
The itemized bill charged Jones $308 for the two police vehicles that responded, $196.87 for police overhead and $80 for the two officers.
That didn’t make sense to Jones who said, “if every legal citizen pays their taxes and we’re supposed to have these agents that do their job and they’re here to protect and help and serve. If I’m still paying you to do your job, after you do your job for getting paid for it, what am I doing?”
The bill is the result of a 2010 ordinance passed by the Lyndhurst City Council that allows the city to send a bill to “at fault” drivers who are not residents and don’t pay taxes in Lyndhurst.
That was about the time other cities also looked into ordinances to put so-called crash taxes into place.
They were met with opposition, according to one ABC News report, but many city officials claimed they didn’t have a choice and had to find ways to bolster revenue in a struggling economy.
“Would you like them to close fire houses?” then-mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg said at the time. “I don't think so. So they've got to raise the money.”
But Insurance companies cried foul, and many said they wouldn’t be responsible to pay the fees, meaning the driver would ultimately be on the hook for the bill.
“It's basically double taxation,” said Robert Passmore, senior director at the trade group, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. “People feel they have already paid for these services.”
By 2011 NPR reported cities in 26 states had a crash tax on their books, although some were finding it hard to collect the fees even after hiring outside collection agencies.
That might be the case in Lyndhurst. Jones’ insurance company, Nationwide Insurance, has said it is the company’s position that neither they nor Jones have an obligation to pay.
The mayor and police chief of Lyndhurst were not available to comment.