Inability to Impose Fees for Police Services
Municipalities in New York are granted relatively broad authority to impose fees for the services they provide. However, this authority is limited when it comes to public safety services. The State Comptroller has opined that “…the providing of police protection is a basic governmental function which all inhabitants of the government are entitled to receive equally without having to pay any additional charges therefore.” (see Opinions of the State Comptroller 81-366
As a result, when a special event is held within the geographic area served by a municipal police department and the event requires extraordinary police services, the municipality is precluded from imposing a fee upon the sponsoring individual or organization, regardless of whether an admission fee is charged. Similarly, no authority exists for municipalities to charge auto insurance companies for the costs incurred by police and fire departments to complete theft investigations and compile vehicular accident reports.
The Cost: Without such authorization, municipal taxpayers must fully support the cost of providing police officers, frequently called back to work at overtime rates, to cover special events for which an admission fee is charged. Additionally, police and fire departments provide valuable services and generate reports from which automotive insurance companies benefit. The costs associated with conducting such investigations and compiling such reports is borne by the municipal police department, and in turn, local taxpayers.
The Solution: State legislation should be enacted to allow a local legislative body to set a fee for providing police services deemed necessary or required at places of public amusement or exhibition, particularly when the event sponsor charges an admission fee. Municipalities should also have the ability to bill automotive insurance companies for the cost of public safety services associated with completing theft investigations and compiling vehicular accident reports.