Sunday, May 03, 2015

Tax Increases and the Most Dangerous Occupations

A few years ago I looked at the U.S. Department of Labor  statistics on the ten most dangerous occupations for 2012. I have listed those ten in the box above plus the statistics for firefighters, who didn't make the top ten and is far down the list of the most dangerous occupations at 1.7 percent fatalities per 100,000 firefighters. This is not to say that firefighting is a safe occupation. Even if relatively few of them ever die in the line of of duty, we all sleep better knowing that someone is on duty at Portsmouth firehouses 24 hours, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. But the last Portsmouth firefighter to die in the line of duty, if I am not mistaken, was David Kehoe, eighty-three years ago, in 1932.

The minimum number of employees in the Portsmouth police and fire departments is dictated by the city charter. Since a charter is to a city what a constitution is to a state and nation, I don’t think it is appropriate for the minimum size of any city department to be permanently set in cement in the charter, any more than the minimum number of soldiers and sailors should be fixed permanently in an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  City officials have kowtowed to municipal unions in the past because they knew they would  probably not be re-elected if they didn’t.

Firefighters are essential to the safety of any city, as trash collectors are to health of any city. If you look at the box above, you will see that the fatality rate nationally for trash collectors was the fourth highest for all occupations in the United States and was at least sixteen times more dangerous than firefighting. But trash collectors were paid nationally some $12,000 less annually than firefighters, and in Portsmouth the city  used to go to extraordinary lengths  to avoid paying trash collectors overtime by changing the day of pickup after most holidays, which I had trouble keeping straight as did many other residents in the city. Since the city manager has been on the job, that bizarre collection schedule has thankfully  been scrapped.

The amendment dictating a minimum number of firefighters at 44 is in the charter because the Fire Department was the most politically active of all city employees and when an issue was on the ballot that they favored they were out ringing doorbells throughout the city in their dress uniforms campaigning for one tax increase or another as they presumably  did back when the charter amendment dictating a minimum number of firefighters was on the ballot and as they did again in 2011 in the so-called Safety Levy. Section 82 of the City Charter prohibits those  who hold a place in city government from taking part in political campaigns, which it appears the Fire Chief has violated in the past, allowing members of his department to participate as a group in political campaigns for and against issues on the ballot. Members of the Fire Department  have the right like all citizens to express their opinions and vote on issues, as individuals, but they should not have the right as a group to campaign throughout the city, including in the senior citizen complexes, such as Hill View. In the past, the  Fire Department, in my opinion,  has used scare tactics to influence the vote on ballot measures. I have written about those scare tactics in a past post on River Vices (click here).

Somebody who knows the workings of the city government better than I do has told me the biggest argument against the increase in the income tax is the lack of any restrictions on its use.  "If the tax increase were to provide  funds for street repair, infrastructure up-grades, or other specific limitations it would be more palatable. But the way the ballot is written the tax can be used for whatever City Council decides to use it for.  They will have no incentive to reduce the outlandish fringe benefits being paid to city employees, including first dollar health insurance coverage costing nearly $20,000 which very few individuals can afford.  Fully paid pensions are another perk which the average worker does not have. Taxpayers foot the bill for both the employee and employer share of the Ohio Pension cost. Excessive overtime is paid in certain departments who have learned to play the system to create significant additional overtime in addition to their regular salary. Giving our city council this additional money is like giving alcohol to a drunken sailor.  They have demonstrated no willingness to reduce the cost of city government other than threatening to reduce service."

Former mayor Jane Murray has just made a post (click here) on the tax proposal on the ballot, urging electors  to VOTE NO on the issue.