Fire trucks in Minnetrista now will be followed by city invoices.

A new ordinance in the west metro city will charge homeowners $500 for fire service calls, but not for false alarms.

City Council members unanimously approved the new fee last week and said that it will provide a modest amount of revenue to offset the growing expense of fire protection.

“It’s a major cost to roll fire equipment out the door and to provide a high level of service to residents in need,” said Minnetrista City Administrator Mike Funk.

The city of about 6,700 people does not have its own fire department but spends about $500,000 annually in contracts to receive coverage from departments in nearby St. Bonifacius and Mound, he said.

The ordinance will raise only a small fraction of that, Funk said, because the city has about six house fires a year, on average.

The new fee would apply only to structural fires, said City Council Member Bob Christians, and not to false alarms, car fires, smoke detectors or security alarms.

“It would not apply to anything except when, in fact, there is a real fire where the fire department goes out and pulls the hoses and puts out the fire,” he said.

Christians said that many of the major home insurance companies will cover the $500 fee as part of a larger claim, but that homeowners should always check their policies to be sure.

“Procedurally, it’s pretty straightforward,” said Funk. “If a resident has a structure fire, the city sends a $500 invoice, the homeowner hands it over to the insurance company, and the insurance company reimburses the city.”

Homeowners will need to pay the fee if they don’t have insurance coverage, he said, or if insurance companies refuse.

The ordinance also authorizes the city to add the fee to an owner’s property tax if it is not paid for any reason and becomes delinquent.

Funk said that state legislators in 2003 gave cities the authority to charge fees for emergency services, including fire protection.

A few cities around the state have passed similar ordinances that charge residents for fire calls, he said, but Minnetrista is apparently the first to do so in the metro area. The other cities include Montgomery, Olivia, Perham, Breezy Point and Mora.

“As far as I’ve heard, those cities have not had any issues collecting the fee,” Funk said.