Electric assessment proposed to help bomberos

Among other duties, fire officials now have responsibility for keeping hydrants in operation. Photo: Cuerpo de Bomberos de Costa Rica

The financial situation affecting the national fire department appears to be much greater than just the absence of stations in key locations in the Pacific.

A legislative proposal filed in October estimated that the Cuerpo de Bomberos de Costa Rica would run out of money in three years. The fire agency now is financed by a 4 percent assessment on insurance policies.

That financing is a carryover from the time when the fire agency was closely related to the county’s only insurance company, the Instituto Nacional de Seguros. That relationship was broken when the insurance market was open to private companies. That means that if the fire department runs short of money, the institute will not make up the difference as it has done in the past.

Now the fire department is looking for more funds. That became known last week whenFlamingo residents complained that a fire truck never showed up at a field fire that threatened homes there.  Among other responses, a Cuerpo de Bomberos spokesperson said that there would be no new fire stations unless a proposed law languishing in the legislature were passed. On the Pacific coast there are many expensive developments and expat enclaves that are at least an hour away from a fire station.

Some Pacific coast residents are seeking to petition President Laura Chinchilla to place the measure, No. 17881, on the presidential agenda so that it can be considered before May 1. Until that date lawmakers can only consider proposals backed by the Presidencia.

The law calls for an assessment of 1.75 percent on most electric bills. The measure would exempt those utility users who consume 100 kilowatt hours or less a month. These are presumed to be some 110,500 low-income residents of the country.

Other electric customers would pay the assessment up to 1,750 kilowatt hours per month.

The measure now resides without any action in the legislature’s Comisión de Asuntos Económicos. The bill had the backing of 20 of the Asamblea Legislativa’s 57 members when it was presented.

There is no estimate of how much money the new electrical tax would bring to the fire department.

A preface to the legislative proposal says specifically that some of the new money would go to placing stations in new areas.

The summary also talks about the poor condition of some operational fire stations and the need for repairs.

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