RUMFORD — Cabbies and owners of two local cab companies denounced a proposal Thursday night to charge cabbies an extra $22 to cover a new state fee for background checks when they apply annually for licenses.
They argued that they're providing Rumford a service by taking intoxicated fares home and putting themselves in danger in the process, and providing transportation for the elderly and disabled.
After considerable discussion, selectmen agreed that the town would cover the $22 fee per applicant this year using contingency funds. The cost was estimated at about $800 if 35 cabbies apply as they have in the past.
Selectmen will meet with cabbies and owners of the three area cab companies in April and create an amendment to the 2010 taxi law, which currently only levies a $25 annual fee for cabbie 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 briefed selectmen on the $22 fee.
To recoup it, Carter suggested that selectman increase the $25 fee to $47 by having cabbies pick up the cost of the background checks. The town, he said, 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 Rumford didn't change the rule; the state did.
“So 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,” Puiia said.
“It's nothing we wanted to do,” he said.
Jessica Corriveau of Rumford argued against the $22 fee and the wait for approval.
Five weeks ago, she said she applied for a cabbie license 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,” Corriveau said.
“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
“Thank you. Well said,” Selectmen Chairman Greg Buccina said.
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,” Merchant 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.
After more discussion, Buccina motioned to absorb the cost for now and work to change the taxi ordinance in April for town meeting approval in June.
It was approved 4-1 with Selectman Brad Adley dissenting.