An article in today’s Newport Daily News reports that one of Tiverton’s ambulances broke down on the way to the hospital, yesterday morning, causing more than a 20 minute delay of the trip. To listen to the government officials — the only perspective that journalist Marcia Pobzeznik bothers to provide — they are not anywhere near the front of the line for blame:
“It’s almost criminal,” [Fire Chief Robert] Lloyd said of the town relying on rescue vehicles that have been pushed beyond their useful life. “We have to get into a rotation and maintain that rotation.” …
“We’re in a rough spot. That’s why it was important to buy a new ambulance a year ago.” [said Town Administrator Matthew Wojcik]
Some residents who believe themselves to be “budget experts have rules in their heads when to replace equipment,” Wojcik said. But they have to realize that heavily used rescue vehicles age more quickly than other vehicles, he added.
The message, obviously, is that Tiverton residents who try to limit the non-stop tax increases that the town government seeks to impose are putting people’s lives in danger with their reckless, “almost criminal” behavior. A number of facts illustrate how irresponsibly unfair it is of the town officials and reporter to convey this message.
First, the reason the town did not purchase a rescue truck last year, as the administrator says it should have done, is that the Town Council did not put one in its budget. “Some residents” (meaning, no doubt, those who put in and vote for alternative budgets) did not remove a request. This year, the vehicle was in the budget, and the town has just received its new truck.
Second, an alternative perspective that Pobzeznik didn’t bother to represent would point out that the town makes a great number of other expenditures that town officials — including the fire chief and town administrator — believe are more important than the “almost criminally” deficient emergency vehicles. The cost per year of the new rescue vehicle is $61,350. That is much less than the town planner costs in pay and benefits every year, and the administrator and council hired him despite voters’ repeated refusal to fund the position.
Other line items could easily add up to an additional fire rescue payment each year. A few years ago, for example, the Town Council bought some waterfront property (a gas station owned by a somewhat prominent local Democrat), taking at least $11,000 off the tax rolls annually. The council continues to be a member of the League of Cities and Towns (line amount: $8,856) despite taxpayers’ removing funding. Another $2,500 is budgeted each year for “winter recreation,” which mainly means a big Christmas party. Town Council members continue to pay themselves a total of $17,300 in stipends. The town gives out $15,000 per year in charitable donations, some of it to organizations led by six-figure executives.
And the list goes on. Why is none of this “almost criminal,” when set against the life-and-death stakes of a rescue truck?
Third, worth separating as a distinct point is the cost of employees, with their regular raises and impossible-to-fund pension and post-employment health-care benefits. When municipal and school unions push for compensation that is out of sync with the private sector, particularly given Rhode Island’s chronically struggling economy, aren’t they contributing to this “almost criminal” deficit of funds?
And if we’re going to blame residents of the town — rather than well-paid employees who apparently can’t prioritize their own budgets within restraints — how about those who voted to build a giant library well beyond the needs of the town or three brand-new elementary schools all at once, by a margin of 73 votes? After state reimbursements, the town spends more than three-quarters of a million dollars on the library debt and operations grant — up from just about $400,000 in 2012. The annual payment for the three schools is over $2 million.
The attitude of elected officials and (maybe more) local journalists has to change. At the very least, they should stop seeing taxpayers as people who should just shut up and pay the bills and should give the views of residents who want lower taxes at least equal validity to big spenders and those who find “public service” to be so lucrative.