BROWNOUTS, THE closing of some firehouses on a rotating basis, are stupid. Fires don’t decide when to start in any geographical pattern that can be predicted with the certainty to allow specific firehouses to be closed some of the time and open at others.
Public safety is a core responsibility of municipal government. Clearly the city is duty bound to make provisions for adequate fire safety.
What should the city do?
Option 1: The city conducts a study to determine the number and location of firehouses that would adequately provide a responsible level of fire safety.
If it’s found that fewer firehouses would not adequately provide such a level of safety, the city must prioritize money away from programs and spending initiatives that aren’t core responsibilities to properly fund fire safety.
Option 2: The city conducts a study that determines the number and location of firehouses that would adequately provide us with a responsible level of fire safety. With resources scarce, the city closes specific firehouses and uses that savings for other core municipal services.
You can’t have it both ways. Either we need all the firehouses we have – or we don’t.
If we don’t, the city needs to close the ones we don’t need and reap the savings from no longer having to staff them and maintain the facilities and equipment.
No one wants anyone to lose a job, but if we don’t need as many firehouses, we don’t need as many firefighters. The firehouses can be sold to retire some of our capital debt or reused for other purposes. On the other hand, if we need them, we need them.
Philadelphia’s tax structure has been chasing taxpayers, businesses and jobs out of the city for generations. The mayor’s solution to this year’s crisis? Raise our property taxes almost 10 percent.
We should be lowering taxes to rebuild the city’s tax base, not increasing them. The city government can’t be all things to all people. Time and time again, the city has lost sight of its core responsibilities. Municipal government exists to provide basic services in the areas of public safety, sanitation, public education and maintenance of the transportation and utility infrastructure.
We can and must fund these services. There are a myriad of well-intentioned programs that fall outside of those areas that Mayor Nutter and his supporters on City Council are eager to fund. But we can’t fund them all.
Besides out-of-control spending and high taxes, the city consistently raises costs associated with doing business in the city. Requiring licenses for tour guides? A law that requires a company doing business with the city to fill out paperwork disclosing whether the business has ever owned slaves or benefitted from slavery (and potentially opening themselves to silly reparations lawsuits)?
A law that requires any company seeking to do business with the city pay all of its employees, even those not involved in city work, 150 percent of the higher of the state or federal minimum wage? Significantly, all of these laws apply nowhere else in Pennsylvania. They simply increase the cost of doing business in the city, increase the city’s costs and decrease its tax revenue.
Nutter whines that without increasing taxes, he’d have to cut back on essential services. The average Philadelphian doesn’t ask much from the government. He doesn’t want to get mugged, wants someone to come if his house catches fire, wants his trash picked up, wants the city to be clean, wants good schools for his kids and wants to drive down his street without hitting a pothole.
That’s pretty much it. Yet these are the very areas the mayor threatened to cut if he didn’t get his tax increases.
IF CITY officials are going to close firehouses, either temporarily or permanently, they should make a clear case for it. As it stands, they have presented no data showing that closures won’t compromise public safety.
Until they do, we need to demand that they keep them open. But I can’t believe that they will ever be able to justify the temporary closures they have embarked upon.
J. Matthew Wolfe is a Republican ward leader in West Philadelphia, where the temporary closures of three firehouses may compromise his safety. He writes for the Loyal Opposition, a Republican policy group focused on issues facing the city of Philadelphia.