Saturday, January 17, 2009

Would you donate to your local government?

If you were asked to donate to a fund to pay for a police and fire class for your community, would you do so?

A local businessman in Toledo, Jim Wheeler, wants to raise the $2 million needed to fund a new police and fire class because the city says it doesn't have the money to provide this service. (Note: these are not volunteer forces, like fire departments in some smaller jurisdictions.)

I have my own ideas about this and we discussed the subject last night during Eye On Toledo. But before I go off on a rant, I'd like to know what you think, so please leave a comment with your thoughts on the subject.

Thanks!

12 comments:

Roman said...

As a citizen of Toledo, I already pay for Police, Fire and a host of other services. These payments are not voluntary, but forced with rather severe penalties if I do not. It is the duty of the City officials to fund basic service from the taxes collected, not for well intentioned citizens to supplement the Police funding, however noble it sounds.

2Bn11FA said...

While the intentions of "helping" raise private money to fund public jobs which are needed (police/fire)is good, it is severely misplaced.

There are two points in my mind that show how wrong it is to do this.
1. Using private donations to fund public/government sanctioned jobs just enables the politicians to avoid responsibility...like giving a crack addict money but not the drugs hoping he will buy a meal and not the drugs...won't ever work. Accountability is lost and politics continue as usual.
2. I think politicians would be against this because if it is successful, well why do we need the politicians/government in its present form. Should Mr. Wheeler raise enough money to fund the classes, it simply shows that the private sector is much more efficient than the government. then comes the revolt.

While it might be nice to have something concrete to show the council & mayor that indicates their incompetance it also absolves them of their responsibility to good stewardship of the community.

Quite simply, Council & Mayor were elected to make sure the citizens had and maintained adequate police and fire personnel, along with the other "required" functions of government...Take Back Toledo is beginning to make this clear I think, but it has a long way to go.

but short answer, bad idea!!

Jay Ott said...

Keep in mind that the mayor suggested a similar idea at a Town Hall meeting in June, 2007.

He said that "citizens [of Toledo] should get together and pay for their own street repairs like one Maumee neighborhood had done."

Donating money does in fact ensure that citizens get what they want and need, but it also relieves gov't of its responsibility and duty to maintain order and safety in society.

That cannot be a good message to send to gov't because it is likely they will come to not only rely on taxation, but also donations.

The problem in Toledo is not that there isn't enough money, but how gov't spends it on things and in ways that it isn't supposed to be spending it on--pools over police, flowers over firefighters, entertainment over essential services.

The reason the gov't has done this is because citizens [including myself] for various reasons and excuses, have not taken a sufficently, active role in keeping our gov't in check.

Good gov't requires good citizenship/patriotism. So the question is: What does it mean to be a good citizen?

Does the mayor's idea of being a good citizen--"if you love Toledo, you will have pride, be obedient, and in agreement with the policies", qualify as good citizenship?

Or, does the mayor's view based on authoritarianism ("salesmen, armtwisters, connivers, whatever it takes") beg the question?

Mad Jack said...

Like many other cities, Toledo simply takes the money away from the mere civilian and does whatever they want with it. Even so, I'd be willing to spend money on the fire department. The TPD is a much different story - I'd spend money to have fewer police rather than more.

Tim Higgins said...

Maggie,

Yes I would be willing to donate. I would be willing to donate the $242,760.94 that you previously mentioned was in the 2009 budget for the Youth Commission. I am sure that if I reviewed the city budget a little closer (or went back and did the same thing to your postings on the subject over the last year) I could find even more that I would be willing to gift to get more police and fire protection.

Mr. Wheeler's heart might be in the right place, but he needs to get his head in a similar position.

Hooda Thunkit said...

Maggie,

In a word NO!

In two words, HELL NO!

What we need first (besides a different mayor and a majority of Council) is a totally reworked City Charter that clearly spells out the priorities for everything to be done by a City Government.

It should so clearly spell out the dos and don't s that even the dumbest politico (all present City officers included) can easily understand what comes first, right down to last, and where we shouldn't spend penny one on.

Then no one could use ignorance as an excuse for anything...

I've recently been spending a lot of time reading and rereading the Charter and clearly it could have been written better, giving more power to the Council and the schlubs that provide the often misspent funds the City misuses.

Kadim said...

I think it's an excellent idea. I'm shocked and bewildered by the negative reaction to it in the previous comments.

It reinforces the idea that government is run for the benefit of citizens and not vice versa. Citizens should have the ability to direct officials in how they spend their money. The introduction of a voluntary tax scheme helps officials better understand what's important to citizens, how taxes should be spent, and their role in accountability to the public.

It also helps citizens realize that sometimes government officials aren't bad, and they have to make difficult decisions about what should be funded and what can't be. Officials can present a wish list of things they'd like to see funded but don't have money for. Citizens can then examine the list and assess it in the context of their own finances and desires. This is the type of feedback that makes communities better.

The libertarian in me loves the idea. A voluntary way of improving services and infrastructure? Awesome. It's like privatizing government.

The conservative in me loves the idea of improving services and infrastructure without raising taxes, and believes that a voluntary tax scheme will be run more efficiently than a mandatory tax scheme.

The liberal in me is excited about the idea of improving infrastructure and community services.

The progressive in me likes the opportunity to improve the culture of government--by getting officials to better understand citizens needs/desires through feedback, and by getting citizens themselves to understand the dilemma of government decisions, and the role that their money and votes play in that dilemma.

Maggie Thurber said...

Kadim - I don't think people are being negative about Wheeler, and it seems to me that they agree with you about government responding to what the public says is the most important to fund.

I think it's fair to say that the people already spoke when they passed the 3/4% payroll tax with the understanding that it would continue to fund police and fire.

It's clear to me that those who've posted comments so far think government should fund police and fire first - something our government hasn't done.

As I said on the radio the other night. If Wheeler were raising money for CareNet, the summer athletic program, the pools, etc..., then I would be out there cheering him on.

But city council is funding the opening of a pool and a splash pad this year - but we don't have a police or fire class.

From a priority perspective, I think that's wrong and I hope you agree...

Tim Higgins said...

kadim,

I believe that your hear too is in the right place, but the realities of the situation seem to be beyond you.

1. A "voluntary tax" on top of the taxes we already pay for city services is an increase, and the conservative and libertarian in you should be appalled.
2. Citizens don't have time to vote for every budget issue that comes up, that's why our Founding Fathers set up a representative republic rather than a democracy. Our elected representatives are therefore obligated to be responsive to our needs, or we are obligated to vote them out.
3. The problem in Toledo seems to be more related to one representative, the Mayor, who sets the priorities of the budget and submits it Council for approval. Unfortunately, Council far too often rubber stamps these budgets knowing that they fail to meet our needs.
4. The city could assess our needs in the context of the real revenues coming in if they would either submit the budget earlier for discussion or do more long-term financial planning like 3-year budgets.

The city has proved itself disingenuous in regards to revenue allocation. We pay extra for trash service only to get that service reduce. We finance pools and usless departments when safety issues like police and fire classes are set aside. We pay for bike paths when roads need repairing.

If Mr. Wheeler wants to look at such things however, let him look to the "optional" parts of the budget. Let him look for volunteers to support pools, bike paths, showers in the Mayor's office, and things like the Youth Commission. If they receive no funding however, they need to be dropped from the budget.

Kadim said...

Maggie...keep in mind I was evaluating the general question of what I think of donation to local government programs, and not necessarily this particular proposal.

Now if the reaction here to this particular proposal is "wait a minute! That's not something we should be doing by a voluntary tax scheme, that's an essential core city service, and y'all are blowing money on sillyness with mandatory tax revenues, but you want this essential service paid via voluntary tax revenues?" then I feel pretty good about what I originally said. One of my likes about the voluntary tax scheme is that it improves feedback and clarity between citizens and officials...and the citizens of Toledo got another example of how their officials have terrible spending priorities. Arguably, this volunteer tax proposal brought that issue to people's attention very effectively, and that gets citizens interested in spending priorities. Would they have been as likely to notice that the city is blowing money on unnecessary things and not funding this program had the volunteer tax not been proposed?

I think volunteer tax schemes are one part of a better culture of feedback and transparency of city budgeting, and clearly, the city needs that.

In regards to what Tim's point #2, I think that the ability for citizens to vote on every budget issue (or at least dictate preferences) is coming. That's one of the nifty advantages of the internet. A citizen could dictate preferences (binding, non-binding or a mix of both) to city officials in a general sense or a specific sense. The technology is there and it's something I want to do with my tax dollars, and I think that once you experience it, you'll appreciate it as well.

As for point #1, I don't understand how it's a "tax" increase. That's like saying my cable went up when the cable company offered a new premium channel package I declined to take. "Tax increase" only applies in my mind if the increase is mandatory.

Roman said...

"Voluntary" taxes as a concept is silly. I think that we should test this theory. Let's make all taxes "voluntary" and see how many get paid.

Frank said...

The answer to your question is a very simple "NO!"
It would be our luck that the council/mayor would come back with another tax hike in something else to pay for other silly ideas..like the Erie Street market. Of course, what business would want to open here if citizens were providing funding for fire & police?
As previously mentioned, we are already paying for these services thru our taxes and it is the government that needs to spend our money more wisely.

Dear Kadim, the problem is not having enought money to fund the police or fire departments, it is the fact that our local government spends on items that should not be spending our tax dollars. Also, it is much cheaper to make a phone call, email or write your representative to let them know how you feel about something, ie spending to fund police/fire than to keep a pool or other non-essential department open.

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