Swansboro To Charge Some Drivers Who Cause Accidents

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A town in the east is following suit of other cities around the country, charging for fire services.

Each day, more than 30,000 motorists drive on Highway 24 between Jacksonville and Crystal Coast beaches.

Swansboro Public Safety Chief Bob Ritchie says there are a large number of crashes involving people who don't live in the area, but that local property taxes still pay for the fire department to respond. Ritchie says they're trying to keep the town from going into debt.

The Swansboro Board of Commissioners approved the fire department's proposal to charge service fees for tourists or out-of-towners who cause wrecks there. The fees range from $400 for a fender bender to $2,200 if someone has to be airlifted from a crash scene. The department must send out two trucks to secure the landing zone for a helicopter.

Tourists say it could deter them from stopping to shop or eat in the quaint town. Some business owners also agree it's a bad idea.

"It would be good to keep our image," says Hal Silver, owner of Through The Looking Glass. "We're not a major city. We are a small little town and we've always been friendly. We've always been helpful. We've always been there for anyone who needed us, and that's the way I would like to see it stay."

Ritchie says police will forward the "at fault" driver's information to the fire department to see if the person lives in its service area. If the driver does not, he or she will be sent a bill.

Residents will also be charged a fee for negligent wrecks including drunk driving or fires caused by negligence, such as catching a house on fire with fireworks.

The fees can begin as soon as Tuesday, but Ritchie says Swansboro is still looking for a third-party company to contract out the billing service.

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