City wrong to charge for hardships

The purpose of all good government is to provide essential services for its people.

And what is more essential than emergency response when it’s needed?

What other reason is there in a Republic like ours for local residents or workers of any township or municipality to pay taxes?

That’s why recently passed legislation by Youngstown City Council allowing the city to collect fees on the backs of victims who have suffered the misfortune of fires or automobile crashes is so preposterous.

Council voted 4-3 last month to approve legislation put forth by Mayor Jamael Tito Brown allowing the fire department to charge for various services, but specifics were not included. Still, the plan is expected to take effect in January.

Now facing heavy backlash, city fire Chief Barry Finley says he won’t implement the program until he first speaks to council about more details.

The ordinance allows the city to enter into a contract with Fire Recovery USA LLC of Roseville, Calif., to bill and seek collection from those who use fire department services. The city gets 80 percent of the money collected with Fire Recovery keeping the rest, according to the ordinance.

Here are some of the fees: car fire, $677; use of fire department equipment to remove someone from a vehicle accident, $1,461; clean up of hazardous fluids spilled in an accident, $554; response to a severe hazardous-material spill, $6,608; and water rescue, up to $2,240, in addition to $56 per hour per responder.

Other fees include $448 per hour per engine and $560 per hour per truck to put out fires, and $112 per hour for each hazardous-material team member.

The contract with a firm to bill and collect the fees must be approved by the city’s board of control, made up of Brown, Law Director Jeff Limbian and Kyle Miasek, interim finance director.

We are appalled at city leaders for taking this opportunity at a money grab, and are bewildered at why council would ever move to approve such a measure, and especially without having first worked out terms and details.

Certainly, government is supposed to be funded by tax dollars. If Youngstown wants to charge fees to residents or visitors who need to utilize the services already being funded with tax dollars, then why not just eliminate the taxes and operate only on the fees that they expect to be generated on the backs of those who had to use fire department services?

But we suspect that’s not being considered because no one is sure how much money the new plan can generate.

Councilman Julius Oliver, D-1st Ward, who voted against the ordinance, had it right when he said this: “We shouldn’t be charging anyone because taxpayers pay enough, and it’s a deterrent for those who live outside of the city to come here. … It doesn’t make sense to me. You’re banking on people getting hurt.”

We agree.

Council and the mayor were wrong to support such legislation, and they should vote to rescind it.