Starting January 2020 the Central York Fire Services (CYFS) will be rolling out a 2-year Motor Vehicle Collision (MVC) cost-recovery pilot program that will allow CYFS to charge at-fault driver’s insurance company an emergency response service fee for accidents occurring in Aurora and Newmarket. The fees would apply to any at-fault driver regardless of whether they are residents or just passing through the municipalities. Note that many York Region municipalities already have Motor Vehicle Collision cost-recovery programs in place and CYFS operating within Aurora and Newmarket is the only remaining fire service within York Region not charging service fees for attending collisions on municipal roadways.
Some of you may have read about this pilot project in the local news, however if we consider the other municipalities within York Region already running similar programs, the reference to a pilot project is perhaps more for optics. When Central York Fire Services reviewed collision data over the last few years within Aurora and Newmarket they identified about $200,000 in one year that could have been charged to at-fault drivers and recovered from their insurance companies. So if the CYFS can recover about $200,000 per year from insurance companies, we should expect those insurance companies will look to recover those MVC costs by increasing premium rates for their users based either on claim history or across the board by zone. The decision to move forward with the revenue driven pilot program was approved by the Joint Council Committee (JCC) of the Municipal Councils of Aurora and Newmarket – basically representative members from both Councils that approve such decisions for CYFS. The deciding members of the JCC from Aurora were Mayor Tom Mrakas, Cllr Michael Thompson and Cllr Rachel Gilliland, noting that recently Cllr John Gallo returned to the JCC to replace Cllr Thompson.
From a CYFS presentation during the October 15th, 2019 Aurora GC meeting, the current cost to dispatch fire services vehicles to an accident site is about $477/hr per fire vehicle (Ministry of Transportation Ontario current rate). The protocol calls for two fire vehicles to be dispatched to perform necessary services; therefore an invoice to the at-fault driver’s insurance company could amount to over $954 for a small accident. It was explained that for larger accidents 4 fire vehicles may be dispatched and the fees may amount to approximately $2,000. It was also noted that there may be zero charge to the at-fault driver if the fire vehicles stay on the collision scene for less than 15-minutes or at the discretion of the fire chief.
At this point let’s not forget that CYFS fire services (Aurora and Newmarket) are already fully funded through our tax dollars (~ $25M). CYFS also reports that: “By implementing a fee for service for attending MVCs, CYFS will have the ability to generate revenue and offset a portion of current operational costs.” I am looking forward to see the additional revenue offset CYFS operational costs in the next annual budget. However, I tend to agree with Cllr Gallo who gave the impression he did not believe that would happen (October 22nd, 2019 – Aurora Council Meeting). In addition, to successfully run this program a budget of $47,155 per year was approved to hire a permanent part-time (24hr/week) MVC cost recovery program administrative person. The position will later be sustained by the recovered revenue and if the MVC program discontinues, the position will be kept for the new CYFS headquarters in Aurora and utilized to administer existing fire services. Lastly, it doesn’t stop there; CYFS will be looking to expand their revenue sources in the future to include charges for nuisance false calls, gas leaks, and post fire investigations.
Perhaps that is all you need to know about the CYFS MVC cost-recovery program (more details here); however, there is more to the story that you may find interesting. The original “revenue collection proposal” by CYFS had additional logistics complications that in my opinion would have been challenging to implement. They proposed invoicing the at-fault driver directly and not the insurance company. Furthermore, if the at-fault driver failed to pay within 30-days, then the amount of the invoice would have been transferred to the at-fault driver’s property taxes in the respective locations – Aurora or Newmarket. For non-residents living outside both municipalities, a collection agency would be involved. At some point after October 22nd, 2019 it appears that CYFS reversed that direction and the local news reported that invoices in fact will go out to the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
I asked the Town of Aurora to provide some information on what happened in between since I attended both October 15th, 2019 Aurora GC meeting and October 22nd, 2019 Council meeting and I heard one thing and then another from the news. The response was: “just confirmed with CYFS that they will be amending the bylaw at the JCC meeting on January 7 to clarify that the invoice will be sent to insurers. The originally approved bylaw stated that the invoice would be sent to the at-fault driver but after consultation with the experts in the collections and insurance areas, it was seen as more efficient to go this route. After JCC, the bylaw amendment will come to both Newmarket and Aurora.”
Well, for those that know the expression of putting “the cart before the horse”, I see this as a pretty good example. The cart representing “let’s collect the money”, and then we’ll figure out “the right horse” to carry out the process.
From my perspective, there is a clear expectation that the collective minds of the JCC members and their attendees (Aurora Mayor, Newmarket Deputy Mayor, Aurora and Newmarket Councillors, municipal CAOs, Directors of Finance) would recognize the need to consult experts on the collection process and identify communication strategies before approving bylaws that have an obvious impact on the community. I called my insurance agent and similar to most residents in the community, they were not aware of the CYFS MVC cost-recovery program at all. Considering the aggressive implementation target date of January 2020 we’ll wait to see how this program will progress.
During the Town of Aurora GC and Council meetings Cllr Gallo expressed his frustration that both Newmarket and Aurora didn’t communicate effectively the MVC cost-recovery program to the residents before being approved. To me, it feels like the MVC cost-recovery program was not intended to be a news-maker in 2019.
During the October 22nd, 2019 Council meeting, Mayor Tom Mrakas pointed out that some of the responsibility for communication of the Motor Vehicle Collision cost-recovery program belongs to the CYFS. Although that may have been the case, I do know that CYFS eventually requested the Town of Aurora to publish a media release on their behalf. That seems to make sense given the Town’s overall responsibility to communicate with residents.
In the end, this blog post covered details about the Motor Vehicle Collision cost-recovery program but it should also remind us about the importance of the effectiveness and organization of our municipal system. I’ll refer back to another one of my posts when I said, “the common denominator remains the expectations that we have for our elected officials. We expect them to make decisions in the best interest of the entire community of Aurora while providing true transparency, exercising due diligence, following due process, and upholding the integrity of their positions. Sometimes that means focusing effort and resources more on the planning, success, and sustainability of long-term priorities and less on short term accomplishments with high visibility.“
Anna Lozyk Romeo