Proposal stems from August arson
By Scott Bellile
The New London Police and Fire Commission opted not to charge residents for fire calls to their properties.
While some municipalities charge landowners for fire calls on their property, taxpayers support fire calls in New London. The average taxpayer pays $25 a year for fire call response, New London Finance Director Judy Radke told the New London Press Star
The Police and Fire Commission discussed the topic Oct. 17 after the Waupaca County District Attorney’s Office contacted New London Fire Chief Mark Wilfuer to discuss restitution regarding an arson.
The DA’s office asked how much the city wanted to fine Fernando A. Castillo for sending New London Fire Department to put out a fire on Aug. 3. Castillo, 21, is accused of setting fire to an ex-girlfriend’s garage in the town of Lebanon. He pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for jury trial in January.
Because tax dollars support fire calls, the fire department did not have a dollar amount outlined by city ordinance to provide the DA’s office. But because it was a criminal matter that cost tax dollars, the city decided to charge the suspect a $250 restitution fine. That is the same dollar amount the fire department charges motorists to respond to car accidents, which are not covered by taxpayers.
Radke said New London’s volunteer fire department operates at a budget of $195,000 this year, $119,000 of which is funded by taxpayers.
There are a couple reasons the city does not charge individual property owners per fire call, she said. One is tax dollars are more stable revenue to sustain the fire department than fire calls. Another reason is ethically it’s hard to demand a person who lost all their possessions or even a family member in a fire to pay up.
To begin charging property owners for fire calls would require the city write an ordinance that states a dollar amount for restitution. Then in criminal cases, the DA’s office could refer to that ordinance and charge convicted arsonists a consistent dollar amount.
“I’m just thinking because of restitution, you know?” Wilfuer told the commission. “They want some kind of number at the DA’s office to say ‘this costs this much.’”
Commission secretary John Lee said the taxpayer model appears to be working well already.
“If it’s not a problem, why create an ordinance or a contract when it hasn’t been a problem?” Lee asked. “We’ve talked about charging for false alarms before and things like that. I’d go for that more than something like this.”
“I agree, if it’s not a problem, don’t mess with it,” commission member Al Grumann later said.
The commission decided to take the topic off future agendas.
Commission members expressed doubt they’ll actually see the restitution from the August arson, as municipalities struggle to collect fines from criminals after they get sentenced to prison.
When the city does see restitution from criminals, it can take years. Radke said the city of New London still brings in about $1,000 a year in restitution payments from arsons dating back to 10 to 15 years ago.