The Anchorage Fire Department has asked the city to look into raising the rates it charges for responding to homes outside the city's fire service area.

Chief Denis LeBlanc said the city charges a flat rate of $500 for the first hour and then another hourly fee per piece of equipment that responds. But, according to LeBlanc, the final bill never comes close to covering the costs.

A recent fire in Eagle River is an example. The home was just beyond the city's fire service area. Anchorage firefighters spent 12 hours on scene using multiple pieces of equipment. LeBlanc said the homeowner would likely be charged around $2000 when the actual costs could be in the range of $25,000 to $50,000. He said other property owners are picking up a big chunk of the tab.

"I would suspect people would say, 'why am I paying to cover their costs when they aren't paying the tax?'" said LeBlanc.

LeBlanc was referring to the money homeowners in the Anchorage bowl pay to the fire department that's included in their property taxes. That's why most people never get a bill if they have a fire. But, people who live outside the service area, which includes parts of Eagle River, parts of the Anchorage Hillside and a lot of property south of Potter Marsh, don't pay the tax. If firefighters respond to a fire on their property they get charged and Leblanc thinks the rates should be higher.

"So that we can build a pricing model that is reflective of actual costs but doesn't overly transfer expense to the homeowner," said LeBlanc. "But, it recognizes that we are subsidizing that expense because we pay the property tax."

Municipal auditors are studying the issue to try and determine the actual costs as well as how they might be more evenly spread. LeBlanc said any raise in rates would have to be approved by both the assembly and the mayor. He said homeowners would also have a chance to appeal their bills if they thought they were too high.

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