Friday, June 06, 2008

Gulf Breeze -- Speed Trap City

The Gulf Breeze City Council this week gave final approval to a new "police emergency service response" (PESR) fee ordinance. Essentially, the ordinance tries to shift the "costs of furnishing police and emergency service responses" in motor vehicle accidents to anyone who is deemed to be "responsible" for the accident or emergency service call.

Superficially, this may sound like a good idea. But it's the modern day equivalent of a speed trap, gussied up to look like a "tax cut" for city property tax payers. And it's pregnant with unintended consequences.

You can read the entire ordinance here [pdf warning]. One of many problems with the ordinance is that it exempts city residents. Section 18-140 specifies that --
residents of the City of Gulf Breeze shall not be charged a PESR fee... or be liable... to others for the payment of all or any portion of a PESR fee.
In other words, all other things being equal, if you live in Gulf Breeze nothing changes; you're still covered by the state's uniform laws and "comparative negligence" laws. No additional PESR can be assessed against you by the City of Gulf Breeze.

But if you reside anywhere else in world you can be singled out to bear the entire cost of a Gulf Breeze emergency service call merely on the say-so of an investigating police or EMT agent who deems you "responsible."

Out-of-area tourists and Pensacola Beach residents will be hardest hit by the new PESR. Indeed, by the very terms of the ordinance they are the only ones to be hit.

Now let's see how that works. Gulf Breeze police officer investigates an auto accident. One driver is a city resident -- say, someone who pays monthly rent. The other driver is from Hoboken, New Jersey. Hmmm. Who to pin the blame on? The driver who is exempt from reimbursing the cop's employer or the out of state guy who isn't?

Tourists are free to avoid Gulf Breeze, of course. And they likely will, once the city's reputation as a speed trap spreads. But Pensacola Beach residents have no such choice. Right now, the only way to come or go to their homes is through Gulf Breeze.

It won't take lawyers very long to figure out that the ordinance likely violates the federal constitutional right to equal protection, due process of law, and freedom of travel. However much revenue the City of Gulf Breeze hopes to generate with "PESR" assessments against out-of-towners, we expect the City will wind up paying many times that much to defend this constitutionally dubious ordinance in federal court.


BLehman said...

The law needs to be changed. If renters supposedly "indirectly" pay property taxes because it is built into the rent, why isn't the same thing true for tourists? Don't they pay "indirectly" through the price of goods and services? Gulf Breeze should assess the fee only to people driving through town who haven't bought anything. No receipt, no free ride.

Anonymous said...

Simple solution is SRIA pass a law making all Gulf Breeze people responsible for accidents on the beach and accidents caused by traffic backups in Gulf Breeze.

panicbean said...

I'll go with anonymous on this one.

Anonymous said...

This new law is very stupid and unfair. It will give the city a bad rep. G.B. residents include a lot of people who do not pay local taxes and a lot more who dont pay the same amount as others. Adult children living at home. Old people living off their children. Renters. Poor people. Deadbeats. Wounded war vets. Too, there are a lot of non residents who pay more in taxes and fees than many G.B. residents. Anyway, car accidents almost never are caused by the fault of just one driver.

Anonymous said...

Beware - this town is a speed trap haven - Avoid this community.

Anonymous said...

You need to look up the definition of an actual speed trap. Enforcement of current speed limits does NOT constitute "speed trap" Take responsibility for your own actions! !