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New state fee causes ruckus with cabbies
RUMFORD -- Following a lengthy discussion with cabbies and owners of two local cab companies, selectmen Thursday backed off a measure that would have charged cabbies an additional $22 to cover a new state fee for background checks when they apply annually for licenses.
In February 2010, selectmen added several changes to Rumford's taxi law and voters approved them.
Among them, cabbies are required to apply at the police station for a yearly license enabling them to drive taxis.
Additionally, they must pay $25 each, which covers the cost of a criminal history background check.
At that time, Maine wasn't charging for such checks, but is now. Police Chief Stacy Carter said the background checks will now be done through a $95 subscription to a program through the state, plus $22 for each Maine background check. He said that cost will be more in an out-of-state background check is required.
To recoup that cost, which is not in the town's budget, Carter suggested that selectman increase the $25 fee to $47 by having cabbies pick up the cost of the background checks. He added that the town shouldn't have to pay the $22 because cabbies work for private businesses.
Cabbies and cab company owners argued that isn't fair to them when they're trying to supplement their incomes and grow their businesses.
Town Manager Carlo Puiia said, “The state is forcing the town to pay this fee, and either we absorb that cost somewhere, or we pass it on to the user, which in this case is the licensee. It's nothing we wanted to do."
Carter said Rumford is the only town in this area that requires background checks for cabbies. They are not required across the river in Mexico.
Chester White wondered how local cab drivers are going to be able to afford this, adding that if there are several drivers from one company waiting the results of a background check, "it could shut down a company."
Board Chairman Greg Buccina asked that if a cabbie is a person in good standing for the past year, "why would you have to suspend until the outcome of that check?"
Carter responded that there is not a provision in the ordinance that one can drive beyond the year's license. "That's why we're giving advance notice to the cab companies that they need to get their applications in early."
He said the wait could be two to three weeks, depending upon a cabbie's criminal history.
Jessica Corriveau of Rumford also argued against the $22 fee and the wait for approval.
She said she applied for a cabbie license five weeks ago to drive for Roadhog Express. It has yet to be approved.
“I don't have a problem with paying the $25 fee, but as of yesterday, it was five weeks and I don't have any major driving offenses,” said Corriveau.
“In '97, I got a speeding ticket and it was not criminal speed, but I'm still waiting, and like the gentleman before me said, we are a small town and not like Lewiston-Auburn.
“They have other options and modes of transportation for the public,” she said. “In this small town, we as cab drivers are the only ones for transportation for a lot of the elderly and disabled, etc., and to add that extra fee above the $25, why should we have to pay for that?
“Like the gentleman before me said, we don't make a lot off (driving cabs), and a lot of times, we don't get tips. We're just trying to supplement incomes or make a living, so why should it be added on to us who are helping others?” she asked.
Courtesy Cab owner John Merchant of Mexico argued that charging the extra fee is unfair.
“We're the ones that get assaulted, we're the ones that get robbed," he said.
Resident Kevin Saisi told selectmen to do some common sense and raise the $25 fee to $30.
Chief Carter said he appreciates all that taxicab services do.
“They certainly take the OUIs off the street,” he said.
Selectman Jeff Sterling asked, "Do we have to do a background check on each driver every year?"
Cabbies followed up on that statement, asking if it could be every two to three years.
Selectman Jolene Lovejoy asked, "Why does the town not pay that cost to protect its citizens?"
Buccina said, "Until we revise the ordinance, it's not fair to put this on the cab drivers at this point. It's the right thing to do. We didn't count on the state charging a fee."
Discussion concluded with selectmen voting 4-1 (Brad Adley dissented) that the town would cover the $22 fee per applicant this year, with the total cost estimated at about $800 if 35 cabbies apply as they have in the past. Puiia said paying for this would likely come out of the contingency account.
Selectmen, the police chief and Puiia will meet with cabbies and owners of the three area cab companies in April to work to create an amendment to the 2010 taxi law, which will be voted upon by citizens in June.