And There’s the Purple Elephant

Don't think about it

Right after my vague description of the purple elephant in politics, a real-life example came up. A county in Tennessee has a unique arrangement. Rural residents in Obion County do not have their own fire department. The nearby city of South Fulton has a fire department, but did not operate beyond the city limits. Instead of letting a fire rage on, South Fulton contracted with individual residents to pay a $75 annual fee to fight fires out of their jurisdiction. They are now able to take any fire call in that part of the county and protect the lives of homeowners.

The system breaks down when an occupant chooses not to pay that voluntary fee. Enough people pay $75 to make the service expense neutral even when some people just don’t think it’s worth paying. Once in a while, those residences burn. South Fulton’s response is to protect life at all costs, then let the fire burn itself out. Then the story hits the papers because “Home burns while firefighters watch, again.”

These stories are just sad. Some people blame the heartlessness of South Fulton. Others blame the ineptitude of Obion County. Others blame dumb residents who can’t come up with $75. In the blogosphere, the right is at fault for not making government services a mandatory tax. Others say it’s the fault of bloated government incompetence.

Then there are the solutions. That’s where the purple elephant comes in. Each idea may be well-reasoned, but it just didn’t happen. Pretending that a great idea can fix this is like trying not to think of that purple elephant I just mentioned. For example:

  1. Save the house in every case. South Fulton has decided, correctly or not, that people who see houses extinguished for free will not want to pay the fee. The city is not obligated to put out the fire, and they decided not to do so.
  2. Save the house and bill for services rendered. Let’s say one out of 1,000 places in the county has a house fire. Their “share” of the bill would be $75,000. It would be cheaper to let the house burn down. If that person isn’t paying $75 now, a bigger bill has less chance of being paid. The other option is to put out the fire and seize the house. It doesn’t always work out well when government entities receive spoils.
  3. Make the fee mandatory. This is the closest to what everyone else in the country does. Fire fighting is one of the most basic services of the government. In this case, it didn’t happen. You can sit back and lament it or do something about it. South Fulton did something, and now they seem to own it. When is the county going to make this a part of the budget?

The solution is not to leave it to the individual, because some of those people are downright stupid. The solution is also not to the state, because they are downright stupid. The politics of left and right got right up and left here. What this requires is someone to make a damn decision either way. Now, if they could just move that purple elephant.

About 1539days

I'm like a word a day calendar for executive disasters.
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9 Responses to And There’s the Purple Elephant

  1. elliesmom says:

    Why should those of us who do not live there have the right to force a county to include services in its property taxes that the people in the county have decided to pay for as a fee for service? It’s not like fire protection services were not available. I think it’s obvious that only the people who have never lived on county land are all bent out of shape over this. Those of us who have understand better how the system works. It’s not oppressive and may in fact save homeowners money. How many blog posts would you dedicate to feeling sorry for someone who lost their life savings in Atlantic City?

    • 1539days says:

      That goes too far in the self reliance category. This isn’t about teaching people a lesson for not paying a fee. South Fulton feels forced to let homes burn because human nature would cause too many people to not pay the fee if they were bailed out anyway. I can’t see how it is evil socialism to budget for fire protection in a county budget. Obion is not trying to save people money, it’s trying to save itself from an unpopular tax levy.

  2. Dario says:

    It used to be that fire fighting was a private business until people got tired of watching buildings burn down to the ground, while the private fire fighting companies, close to the fire, did nothing. There are certain services that should not be private, such as police, fire fighting and health care.

    • 1539days says:

      I just can’t reconcile the mess government has made out of health care with the idea that putting more control in its hands will make things better. Police and fire are emergency services. If you want to argue for universal emergency rooms, that’s one thing. Socialized medicine is designed to make everything free to the consumer. What happens in effect is that everyone is prepaying for medical services. But if the supply of medical services is infinite, (no cost associated) the demand goes up. As the supply of police go up, the demand for law enforcement goes down. Costs are exploding all over the world in medicine, and it’s leading to less services.

  3. Lulu says:

    And there lies the problem. Both elliesmom and Dario have valid worthwhile arguments. But what we may be seeing is a cultural split. It is not all about taxes versus a fee for service. As strange as it may sound to those of us who live with services in a municipality there are those who not only do not want to pay for them, they do not want them period. They burn their garbage, haul their relative to the ER in private vehicle, have septic systems and big satellite dishes, and put out their own fires. They also help each other when big problems arise. They do have law enforcement only it is not the city police it is the sheriff’s office and state troopers. They choose this and they vote to keep it this way. It isn’t dumb or ignorant. It is a different way of life.

  4. Lulu says:

    OT but that asshat Corzine is going to plead the fifth. That film clip with stills of Obama and Corzine yucking it up should make some very fine Republican ads. I hope his face becomes the symbol of government/Wall St corruption along with Obama’s.

  5. DeniseVB says:

    At least the FD showed up to protect, save lives and not let the fire spread. If the family didn’t feel 6.25/mo was worth protecting their “stuff”, then that was their personal decision.

    Wonder if they had insurance? I would imagine having homeowners/renters insurance would require this fee being paid?

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