Proposed city fee aimed at repeated users of 911 service

April 7, 2019

Lake Havasu City residents who repeatedly contact emergency dispatchers could get a bill from the city.

There are times when calling 911 is perfectly advisable: Sometimes it’s a fire, or an accident with injuries, or a report of dangerous criminal activity that requires an urgent response from police or fire officials.

But according to Lake Havasu City Fire Chief Brian Davis, some of Havasu’s residents may have been over-using Havasu’s emergency services in non-emergency situations — incidents that can potentially hinder response to actual emergencies.

“It’s not unusual for people to ask us to feed a pet or something of that nature,” Davis said. “People have called 911 on Thanksgiving to ask how to cook a turkey. In terms of impact, there was an engine at one location this January that was unavailable when a medical emergency occurred in the same area. The extra time needed for the next available engine to respond is not the best option for someone truly in need.”

The proposed ordinance would apply a fee to residents who contact Havasu’s emergency dispatchers more than nine times per month. According to Davis, the purpose of the ordinance would be to allow the city to recover costs associated with repeated use of emergency services. The fee’s exact amount was not disclosed in Davis’ proposal.

Lake Havasu City Fire Department records show that in the past year, a single location in Havasu contacted emergency dispatchers 290 times between January 2018 and January 2019 — an average of almost six calls per week. The fire department recorded an additional 211 calls, collectively, made by only nine people and locations throughout Havasu during the same timeframe. The identities of those residents and locations remained anonymous in Davis’ report to council members this week.

“(The ordinance) was developed to be very similar to current false alarm ordinances, which by nature are effective and rarely result in any fees,” Davis said. “But I think the numbers speak for themselves.”

Residents who fail to pay the proposed fee within 30 days could be held responsible for legal fees or costs incurred by the city in collecting that fee.

Lake Havasu City Councilwoman Jeni Coke spoke about the ordinance in a Friday interview.

“It’s definitely become an issue, especially after looking at the numbers,” Coke said. “If someone is having an emergency and our services are already busy responding to a non-emergency situation, it’s not the best use of our resources. I think this is a good measure to educate the public … as Havasu grows, those numbers are going to rise. Our dispatchers already receive a large number of calls, and we need to make sure people get the correct service. This isn’t meant to punish anyone … it’s an opportunity to use this as an educational tool for the public.”

According to Davis, the ordinance was drafted for the Lake Havasu City Fire Department’s use, but repeated calls to police dispatchers could also result in fees for Havasu residents. Police officials were not immediately available for comment as of Friday evening.

The ordinance, identified as Ordinance 19-1216, will be discussed during a public hearing at the Lake Havasu City Council’s April 9 meeting, to take place 6 a.m. at the Lake Havasu City Police Department.