Residents of the city of Warren have every right to expect crime to drop, police and fire response times to improve and fire stations to reopen now that a 0.5-percent income tax designated for the safety forces has been approved.
Why should residents have such expectations? Because in making the case for the tax increase, police and fire officials and a Web site, www.FirePoliceYes.com, detailed the effects of the layoffs last year triggered by city government's fiscal crisis. A large number of the furloughed employees were police and fire personnel. According to proponents of the 0.5-percent tax, there was an increase in violence -- "several drive-by shootings and shootings into habitations" -- and a "dramatic" increase in drug activity, property crimes, auto thefts, aggravated robberies, assaults and felonious assaults.
They also claimed that there was a 50 percent decrease in vehicle traffic stops as a result of fewer police officers on the roads and an increase in the response time for most calls for service.
In the fire department, the layoffs resulted in the closing of fire stations, an elimination of the fire prevention program and a response time of 8 minutes, compared to 3 minutes prior to the layoffs.
Bleak picture: Warren voters were obviously swayed by the bleak picture painted of the police and fire departments and they thus approved the tax increase by a vote of 4,843 to 3,509. It was the fourth time that the city had gone to the voters for a temporary income tax, but in March, August and November of 2000 the residents obviously weren't convinced that the mayor and city council were being good stewards of the public treasury. One of the biggest challenges that confronted City Hall this time was to focus public attention on the very real effects the fiscal crisis is having on Warren's well being. In the past, anti-tax advocates had succeeded in casting government as a haven of waste and inefficiency.
Consequently, the decision was made to give Warren residents a chance to vote for a tax specifically for the safety forces. Tuesday's primary election result shows it was a successful strategy. But now, city government must deliver.
Well before the 31/2-year term of the tax expires, the police department should have at least 84 officers, plus the chief, on the force compared to the current 54, while the fire department should have at least 75 employees, plus the chief, and two more fire stations open.
That's what Tuesday's vote was all about -- safety.