As reported around the internet yesterday, a second home in Obion County, Tennessee was allowed to burn down on Tuesday. John McQuaid at Forbes had this to say in response:
But here’s the deeper problem. Look at Mayor Crocker’s rationale for letting homes burn: you pay, you get a service. Don’t pay, you get nothing. No free riders. This is straightforward and thus appealing. But it is also misguided: it puts abstract principle over the business of governing. Lives and property are put in danger in exchange for the satisfactions of bean-counting and moralistic coercion. Is letting homes burn, and scaring non-payers, really an effective positive incentive? Fire protection isn’t like water or electricity: if you cut if off for non-payment, people don’t notice until it’s too late. If a house burns for non-payment, most will think “oh, it’ll never happen to me” and go on about their business. Instead of throwing up their hands, public officials should account for this somehow, because protecting the houses of the poor and/or irresponsible from death and destruction is a public good. It’s bad for you when your neighbor’s house goes up in flames.
In other words, people are entitled to fire protection funded by someone else.
To cut through the entitlement rhetoric, let’s examine the facts:
From the 2008 Obion County Comission fire report (PDF):
On January 19, 1987, the Obion County Commission passed a resolution establishing an Obion County Fire Department, but no action was taken to implement the resolution. Therefore, Obion County has a county fire department on paper, but is unmanned, unfunded and not operational.
Because there is no operational county fire department, Obion County has missed the opportunity to actively pursue receipt of FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) and Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), which could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding.
According to survey information, over 75% of all municipal fire department’s structure calls are rural. All fire departments in Obion County charge a $500.00 fee per call in rural areas, but collections are, less than 50% and the fire departments have no way of legally collecting the charge. Therefore, the service was provided at the expense of the municipal tax payer.
Each individual municipality currently furnishes operating funds for their fire departments without assistance from the county or state.
This is in reference to the prepaid $75 annual fee, not the $500 per-call fee mentioned above. The article also mentions that approximately 700 of the 900 residences not covered by municipal fire departments have opted to pay the $75 fee.
So let’s review:
-The county established a fire department on paper nearly 25 years ago, but has failed to implement it, and in doing so, has missed the opportunity to have most of its firefighting operations funded by federal block grants;
-The county collects a property tax, but contributes none of it to firefighting operations;
-For 21 years, the city of South Fulton has permitted county residents with no fire service to pay a $75 fee for fire protection (probably the smallest amount any homeowner pays for firefighting service anywhere in the United States);
-Fire departments in Tennessee have no legal recourse for collecting un-reimbursed fees or firefighting expenses;
-The fire department already refused to put out one house fire earlier in the year due to lack of payment, and the owner of the home which burned two days ago still hadn’t paid the fee.
And for some strange reason, this problem is seen as the city of South Fulton’s fault.
Folks, each of us pay property taxes, either because we are homeowners or because the cost is embedded in our rents. Those of us who have fire protection, police service, and other emergency services, pay for them (unless we are homeless). The situation in Obion County, Tennessee is a result of incompetent government, entitlement mentality, and a lack of individual responsibility.
Remember this whenever a “registered Republican” chastises the South Fulton Fire Department: “incompetent government”, “entitlement mentality”, and “lack of individual responsibility” are three things the rest of us are battling against.