WASILLA — Within months, the Mat-Su Borough plans to start billing people for off-road rescues.
That will make the Mat-Su one of very few entities in Southcentral to engage in the disputed practice. Most agencies rescue people for free. Only the Anchorage Fire Department charges a fee, and then only when responders leave the department's service area.
Nationally and in Alaska, many search-and-rescue groups oppose billing for backcountry saves. They say the prospect of a fee can make people wary of calling for help, or trigger delays that complicate rescues, especially in the mountains.
But the Mat-Su — which charges for ambulance transports and responses to motor-vehicle accidents — decided last summer it wasn't fair to charge all taxpayers for far-flung rescues when just a few people need the service.
Officials with the borough's emergency services department are working on the policy now and expect to start billing for off-road rescues by spring.
Proposed fees span various categories of rescue, including charging for the use of ATVs, airboats or snowmachines if responders go off-road -- $300 for the first hour, $150 for each additional half hour, plus $200 for trailer -- or a $150 flat rate for search and rescues of lost people.
Everyone who gets an off-road rescue will get a bill, said Clint Vardeman, the borough's deputy director of emergency services. But bill collectors will try to go easy on people who happened into trouble instead of going looking for it.
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