FLINT FIREFIGHTERS JUST CAN’T CATCH A BREAK
One could say the name Flint, Michigan is apt when it comes to sparking fires — real and political. The city has suffered a rash of troubling arsons over the past few years, some of which have been partially resolved with the arrest and plea deal of a gang of arsonists responsible for up to 100 fires. The city’s east side alone suffered a whopping 145 intentionally set blazes in 2010, accounting for 30 percent of Flint’s 486 known arsons that year.
Indeed, Flint is a city on fire, and under siege….
The fiscally challenged municipality is under assault from the State of Michigan when it assigned an Emergency Manager to run its government – usurping elected leaders, thereby suspending democratic rule and rendering elections meaningless. Under emergency management the city has suffered terribly through brutal cut-back management practices that have decimated public sector services.
Already the most violent city in the nation, Flint also takes the honor of being the arson capitol of the country according to the FBI – with its record number of self-immolations earning it that dubious title. The firefighting costs there are astronomical. Businesses are frantically attempting to protect themselves through enhanced alarm systems.
Private security firms refuse to pay-up for false alarms
Privately-owned security companies frequently act as the conduit for public protection of a business community – be it fire or police response, they expedite the automated 911 request. Skittish Flint businesses are arming themselves with hair-trigger alarms through these private contractors, whose state-of-the-art systems are generating numerous and costly false alarms. In the last five months of 2012, the city responded to hundreds of false alarms, resulting in 1600 invoices for a $134,000 total, at $79 per response — expenses the beleaguered city cannot bear, yet they are not being reimbursed by the business community.
Traditionally, individual businesses are directly billed by the city for a false call, but Flint opted to run the billing liability through the security companies themselves – a controversial move. Those corporations should have contracts that pass along false alarm fees to the contracting business, where applicable. But it seems, few of them wish to tack-on the cost of false alarms to client invoices. They’re counting on the problem just going away — and are simply not paying what’s owed the city.
As if the lack of support among the business community wasn’t enough, Flint firefighters are also under political attack.
Mackinac Center doesn’t want firefighters to receive incentives to live in Flint city limits
The Flint housing market has been hammered by an economic downturn for many decades prior to the national economic bubble collapse. Many neighborhoods are largely empty, and vacant homes invite crime. The Genesee County Land Bank is responding by developing a program that would give a 30 percent discount on foreclosed homes to firefighters and police officers willing to move into the city. The homes have been rehabilitated through grants from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.
This would raise occupancy and make the neighborhoods safer through the presence of police and firefighters. Fire response time is another attractive factor.
It’s a win-win. Who wouldn’t agree?
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is throwing water on the plan claiming that granting Flint firefighters and police officers a discount is “preferential treatment” that is not fair because private businesses can’t get in on the action for their employees. (Private businesses with a costly unpaid false alarm addiction). Mackinac Center goes on to outrageously claim that Flint and Detroit firefighters are already over-compensated and, here’s the kicker…they are placing direct blame for Flint’s fiscal crisis on the firefighters. Read their over-the-top screed here.
We certainly agree that public sector legacy costs are problematic for all municipalities during stressful economic times…BUT, to blame Flint firefighters for the problems of that city is beyond the height of hubris — it’s reprehensible.
Amy Kerr Hardin This article also appears in Voters Legislative Transparency Project