The city of South Fulton has a fire department that serves the residents of that city. This is not all that unusual. People outside the city, who do not have a fire department, want the city to serve them as well, but since they do not pay taxes (which fund the fire department, mind you) to the city, the city will not extend itself and incur the significant cost. So far as I can tell, the residents of the city are loathe to extend the coverage area of their department to handle a population who would essentially be freeloading off of their taxes (which would have to increase to cover the additional costs of picking up a more broad coverage area). So, the city government came up with a compromise. For only $75 a year, anyone outside the city can get fire service from the city’s department.
Gene Cranick was a homeowner who lived outside South Fulton who did not wish to pay the additional fee to get fire department service. I say “was” because his house recently caught fire and burned to the ground, even though he called the fire department and asked them to respond. As Cranick said, “I thought they’d come out and put it out, even if you hadn’t paid your $75, but I was wrong.” Yes, indeed he was.
Now Jilani has balled up his little progressive fists in anger because the firemen did respond to the house of Cranick’s neighbor, which was threatened by the fire, and saved it. This strikes Jilani as wickedly unfair and an apt comparison between the conservative and progressive visions of America. Says Jilani:
One, the conservative vision, believes in the on-your-own society, and informs a policy agenda that primarily serves the well off and privileged sectors of the country. The other vision, the progressive one, believes in an American Dream that works for all people, regardless of their racial, religious, or economic background.
Well, that’s all warm and fuzzy, but let’s take a look at the reality of the situation. The city didn’t charge the subscription fee vainly. They were responding to a need. Indeed, their arrangement made everyone who lived outside the city better off. Why is that? Well, before the fee existed, the folks who lived outside the city had no fire service and could not get the fire department to respond at all. The fee made it possible for them to have something they did not have, and could not get on their own. But Jalani sees this as bad because, apparently, South Fulton did not simply throw its security blanket over everyone.
But there’s a good reason for that, a reason that Jalani either ignores or considers entirely unimportant. Fire departments are not free. Someone would have to pay for the firefighters to run miles outside the city to fire calls. Someone would have had to cover Gene Cranick’s fair share of the bill before there was a fire. In other words, Jalini would force the residents of the city to cover far more than their fair share of the bill for the fire department in order to achieve “an American Dream that works” for people like Gene Cranick. So, what the city did was to increase the overall safety and security of the entire county without penalizing its own residents with higher taxes and fees. That seems like an awfully good thing to me.
But, who would have paid if Jilani had his way and the city stopped jackbooting the poor and defenseless homeowners of Obion County in favor of their wealthy masters in South Fulton. Let me go ahead and do the work Jilani couldn’t be bothered to do.
First, let’s look at what we have in the story itself. Gene Cranick did indeed live outside the city but, it seems, he wasn’t exactly impovershed. He obviously had the money to pay the fee, since he offered the fire department “whatever it would take” to put out the fire. I dare say that if the firefighters took him up on his offer, he would have paid far more than $75, which tells me that he had the money to make good on his offer. That means he wasn’t poor.
In fact, the “rural” residents who have to pay the fee would be considered the “well off and privileged sectors of the country” Jilani didn’t like, according to demographic data from the city-data.com website. The average median household income in Obion County in 2008 was over 7,000 dollars a year higher than it was in the city of South Fulton. Houses in the county were worth over $19,000 more than the city and those below the poverty line were 16 percent of city residents compared to 13 percent in the county. We can reasonably assume, thanks to those darned pesky facts, that Cranick was better off than the average city resident. Yet he didn’t get preferential treatment from a fire department paid for by the less well-off city residents (who, by the way, paid their three full-time firefighters in 2007 only slightly more than the average family salary).
So what’s Think Progress’ beef here? That the city which has roughly 1/13 the population of the county should pick up the tab for the richer county residents’ homes? That asking a county resident to pay $6.25 a month to offset the additional expense on a small fire department is a dire evil that should not be borne? That progressives are awesome just because Zaid Jilani finds some story that offends his sense of whatever?
This is the real problem behind progressivism. They want to run the world, but they can’t be bothered to spend a few minutes thinking through the problem before rushing to an ill-considered and wrong conclusion. If folks like Jilani can’t get small-town fire service right, why on Earth would we want to trust them with our lives and freedom?
UPDATE: Tom Maguire has more on the story. He’s more on the fence than I am, and I get his point. Still, it’s not like the terms of the deal were hard to understand and I doubt seriously that Cranick couldn’t pay. He simply didn’t.