Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Another Township Fire Department Merger: Higher Pay for Firefighters, Higher Taxes For Taxpayers

Next to the transfer of the utilities to Citizens Energy, the consolidation of township fire departments into the Indianapolis Fire Department rank pretty high in the various frauds that have been perpetrated on the taxpayers of this city. With each new deal, we're told about all of the savings and property tax decreases that will come from "synergies" created as a result of consolidation. The problem is that none of these deals ever result in any savings to the taxpayers or property tax reductions despite the claims of the politicians who sell these deals to us. The latest case in point is the merger of Lawrence Township's Fire Department into the Indianapolis Fire Department. WRTV reports on its impact:

In a unanimous vote, the Lawrence Advisory Board passed a resolution to merge, a move that drew applause from the crowd. More than 100 firefighters would be affected if the measure received final approval.

Very excited, long time coming," said Lawrence Township Fire Chief Michael Blackwell.

Under the consolidation plan, 18 of 127 firefighters would remain with the city of Lawrence with the rest rolling into IFD.

Lawrence Township firefighters were facing layoffs and took a 16 percent pay cut this year. Financial woes would go away if the merger goes through.

"They'll see a significant pay increase and a pension base increase," Blackwell said.

Supporters contend that consolidation saves taxpayers money by sharing services.

Trustee Russ Brown said there would be a slight cost increase the first year but that the decrease would be significant in the following years – about $150 on property tax bills.

IFD officials said consolidation brings enhanced fire safety and cuts duplication that already results in the two departments responding to the same runs.
Did you catch that? "They'll see a significant pay increase and a pension increase." That's the basic problem with all of these mergers. IFD absorbs firefighters from the townships and boosts their pay and pension benefits considerably to match those of IFD's firefighters. Lawrence Township Trustee Russ Brown notes the higher taxes property owners will pay the first year, but he assures us the property tax bills will decrease by about $150 on average in subsequent years. Is he talking about Lawrence Township ratepayers or Marion County ratepayers? Yeah, that's what I thought? He's talking about Lawrence Township ratepayers.

Unfunded pension liability for public safety employees is what got Indianapolis into deep trouble before the state agreed to pick up about a half billion dollars in pension debt during the first part of the Ballard administration as part of a property tax reform plan that required all taxpayers to pay a higher state sales tax as a tradeoff for tax caps. Every time IFD absorbs another one of these township fire departments, it means the IFD taxing district will be paying more over the long haul to make up the difference in extra pay and pension benefits for those added firefighters, not to mention the cost of maintaining services in the primary areas of the county experiencing real growth. That translates into the need to raise property tax rates or find the money elsewhere in the city-county budget if the property tax cap law won't allow the fire district to raise the amount needed to pay for these expanded services. It's just more "Alice in Wonderland" fantasies. And we fall for it every time.


Lawyer said...

Sorry AI, but as a friend and supporter of Jackie Nytes, I have to disagree on this one.

First, the Little Hatch Act applies to candidates and Nytes is not a candidate. Secondly, the contract awarded the business of Nytes' husband by the Parks Department was a whopping $13,000 and was to print the guides. The paperwork posted on the city's website showed a project savings to the Parks Department of approximately $5,000 over last year. Finally, the grant process for the CDCs is a process that takes months which means that the issue of this vote occurred long after the application was put forward by the CDC run by Nytes.

I do not like the bonds aspect of this project and would have been happier if Nytes had voted against it. I also do not like the fact that Ballard is going to claim that he has done great things for our city by repairing the infracture, which, by the way, was never in such a sad state during Peterson's administration.

But on the other hand, our infrastructure is crumbling and the taxpayers are saying don't raise our taxes to do repairs, so what is the government to do?

And that is what led Nytes to vote for the transfer and bonds. She actually cast a vote because she believed it was the right thing to do.

So, for those who disagree with her vote, take her to task, argue with her about it and let your own opinions be heard. But the personal attacks and attempts to portray Nytes as dishonest are not warranted.

Downtown Indy said...

"But on the other hand, our infrastructure is crumbling and the taxpayers are saying don't raise our taxes to do repairs, so what is the government to do?"

You really have to ask?

Quit the frivolous spending, quit giving away tax dollars for things that are playthings for the rich aned famous, at least until the crumbling infrastructure is fixed.

The local arts groups are already gearing up for their annual belly-up-to-the-trough pityfest as the Mayor gets close to his annual budget submission to the City Council.

Learn to frickin' say 'NO!' That's all it takes.

dcrutch said...

Reduced revenue for infrastrucure and other needs is not due to any one culprit- including property caps. It's the culminaton of all levels of goverment being unable to shrink- all at once.

Cities, counties, and states, seem more typically obliged to balance budgets once in awhile (or at least put on a better facade). The Federal government seems to still be drifting in the fog.

All these goverment layers seem to toil in some pseudo-vaccuum, with what's going on elsewhere theoretically unaffecting their wants and needs.

Unfortunately, you only have: one wallet, while they have: many layers. If you open up your wallet and explain this problem to it, perhaps more money will magically appear and we have a solution. If not, we're still faced with tackling real issues like tax reform, personal responsibility, entitlements, foreign policy, and immigration.

These issues are enormously difficult. But, to fund fire departments and other needs, I think their pursuit offers a better chance of success than continuing to spend money we don't have- or talking to your wallet.

Flipper said...

You are full of it. Very few IFD hinsfirefighters are under the 1937 pension act. The majority are under the 1977 PERF pension fund which is state funded

Gary R. Welsh said...

Flipper, The half billion dollars in unfunded pension liabilities assumed by the state on behalf of Marion Co. included both police and firefighters from the old systems.

Gary R. Welsh said...

If Jackie isn't a candidate for re-election, then that must come as a surprise to the leadership of the Marion Co. Democratic Party which is threatening to withhold a slating endorsement for her. $13,000 may be an inconsequential contract to larger companies, but it is not to a smaller company like Printing Partners. I also don't believe that is all the work the firm has been paid to do for city-county work under Ballard, although it had a significant amount of work under Peterson. It was the contract inked closest to the CIB deal. What I'm sick and tired of hearing is the proponents claim that they can fix the infrastructure needs and not raise taxes. Where do they think the money is coming from? If it's not a direct tax increase, it is the hidden tax included in much higher utility rates in this proposal. It is disingenuous to tell people they are getting something for nothing.

Gary R. Welsh said...

I would add that Ballard's administration has singled out Nytes' CDC for special treatment compared to the other CDCs in terms of press releases, press conferences and larger grants. There are other neighborhoods that are in far worse shape than her Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood, which has already had tens of millions of dollars in new streets, sewers, sidewalks and abandoned home demolition expenditures made for its benefit before that latest round of federal grant money was distributed.

Gary R. Welsh said...

I would add, Flipper, it doesn't matter whether it's the state or the local governments paying for pension obligations. It all comes from the same pockets--the people who pay the taxes.

M Theory said...

Yep, they'll be there. If they really cared about the arts, they would do their Missions on a shoestring like the rest of us do.

We need to make sure the public is well aware of the fact that most of the arts council budget is paid to admin and salaries, with the least amount getting to the actual arts programs for the long line of disadvantaged and handicapped children they will parade before the council.

If they really want to help the kids, then they need to get rid of the arts council altogether and encourage grass roots community programs that are self-funded and accountable.

varangianguard said...

The day the last Marion County Township Fire Department joins IFD, I imagine that the plans to privatize them all will begin to unfold.

It will be a big win-win for taxpayers and politicians. Not necessarily so good for people who need to utilize fire services.

Gary R. Welsh said...

They will never privatize the fire services. The union is simply to powerful for that to even get to first base. Just ask Steve Goldsmith.

Sir Hailstone said...

What doesn't seem to be mentioned is that firefighters will need to be hired or transferred from other stations into LTFD and fire trucks will need to be purchased. Lawrence Township utilized the Castleton Volunteer Fire Department (a private non-profit organization) to augment staffing and CVFD owns several fire and EMS vehicles used by Lawrence Township. With IFD taking over there will be no use for the Castleton Volunteer Fire Department so they will lose the volunteer personnel and the equipment the volunteers provide to Lawrence Township.

varangianguard said...

Times change, AI. When a municipality (albeit a California one) can simply pack it all in and completely privatize city services, then I wouldn't say "never" when it comes to Indiana.

Difficult to see that it will become sustainable to pay superior wages and pension packages when the future of the tax base is not guaranteed. Local governments will likely suffer through further belt-tightening soon enough.

I agree that it would cause quite an uproar, but I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who would jump at the chance for even 2/3 of what IFD firefighters make.

And, need I mention the politically connected who would be pushing and shoving each other to get lined up for becoming the contracting company?

Gary R. Welsh said...

Good point, Mike. I had forgotten about the volunteer fire department.