Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's a tax, no matter what Toledo City Council calls it

Today at the agenda meeting for Toledo City Council, they will again discuss Fire Department billing of citizens.

I've been listening to WSPD this morning and the comments that were made by Council President Mark Sobczak - and I can only wonder if he's actually read the ordinance.

The first thing he said is that this is a 'soft billing' only - they will bill the insurance companies and if they insurance company doesn't pay, nothing more will happen. Here's the text of the ordinance:

If it can be reliably determined that there is no insurance coverage for a particular emergency incident which causes the Toledo Fire Department to use, or incur loss, damage, and wear and tear to apparatus, tools, equipment, and materials; the City may recover any such fees from the person or entity that received said emergency services or the person or entity responsible for the debts and obligations of the person or entity that received such emergency services.

and this:

Recipients of the services of the Toledo Fire Department shall be invoiced directly under the terms of this ordinance if they do not carry insurance sufficient to cover the impact to the City of Toledo’s loss of capital or material.

Granted, it does say 'may' in one section and 'shall' in the other ... but if the city has no intention of billing individuals, the ordinance should clearly say so. In this case, it says that if your insurance isn't sufficient to cover the bill, recipients "shall be invoiced directly." That's not soft billing. And even if Council believes what they're saying about soft billing, we've had way too many instances in the past of such 'intentions' going by the wayside when the city wants more money.

Then there is the claim that since citizens have this coverage as part of their basic insurance policy, this won't really cost them anything. Do they not understand that the cost of fire insurance for all people/companies will go up over time if this is passed?

There is a cost for insurance, even if you never have a need, because actuarial tables which determine those costs are based upon many factors in your area or similar demographics. Either the members of council who believe this are completely and totally ignorant and shouldn't then be trusted with making such decisions on council, or they are intentionally distorting the issue in order to make it seem 'okay.'

Sobczak also says that the city needs more money. Well, so do I. Unlike the city, I don't have the ability to arbitrarily increase my income. And every time the city decides to impose such costs on me, I have to cut out something in order to be able to afford them because, unlike the city, I anticipate and plan for future costs I may have to pay.

Sobczak then throws in the gratuitous, but ever-popular, leftist misdirection by saying that those of us who actually read the ordinance are just trying to throw a bunch of misinformation out there because we've got an interest in protecting 'big insurance.'

Yeah - right.

I'm far more interested in protecting myself than I am my insurance company. And acting in my own self-interest, I've actually read the ordinance and found that it's going to cost me a lot of money - either through a direct billing if I have a need for such services or through increased insurance rates if the legislation is actually passed.

That Sobczak - and most of the other members of council - don't understand this is no surprise. They've never had to run a business or actually make a profit, so they do not comprehend of unintended consequences of such decisions. They also don't seem to understand that every policy and decision has a cost - and often, the cost is greater than the claimed 'benefit.'

In this case, the city may - I repeat - may realize $500,000 of revenue from this tax. But how much will they lose in the long term when citizens and businesses leave the area or avoid coming here because these 'costs of living' and tax structures/rates are so high? We know this is already occurring, considering the decline in Toledo's population and the consistently high unemployment rates (higher than other urban areas in the state for the last 20 years or so) ... which is part of what put the city in the mess in the first place. How much worse will the financial situation get and will the further erosion of the tax base be more detrimental than the $500,000 they hope to raise? Undoubtedly.

Councilman Joe McNamara, in several emails to constituents, has said that the city's income isn't what it used to be and there is 12% unemployment and loss of population. So, he reasons (though not logically) the city needs to tax the people who are still here, even though he just stated that many of those people have lost their jobs. Can you say 'stuck on stupid'?

And while City Council is considering raising this tax on people, they are NOT moving forward with the privatization of garbage collection. Despite having an arbitration decision earlier this month stating that it will NOT violate the city's contract with Teamsters Local 20 if the city subcontracts for garbage collection, no ordinance to do so has yet been submitted to members of council, despite the claimed $3 million of savings each year. But Council did vote to expend over $9 million to purchase new cans for everyone (which they will somehow bill us for in the future - the cost and the interest, that is) despite not knowing how, exactly, they would pay for the cans.

And just last week Mayor Carty Finkbeiner found that the city could save another $500,000 by combining city garages. This was a new idea to save money and it was welcomed by the citizens, though it raised a serious question. The Mayor and City Council have previously said they've cut everywhere they possibly can and there are no other areas of savings in the city. Then they announce this 'savings,' completely destroying any credibility these politicians had left when it comes to Toledo's budget.

So if the city can come up with this new cost savings plan - and I'm glad they did - what else might they be able to do that they haven't yet 'discovered'? And why aren't they all going over the city with a fine-toothed comb before considering increased taxation on the citizens? Well, that's the question of the day.

Then there is the side issue of just how callous the city is being in sending a bill for engines, gloves, boots and 'do not cross tape' to people who have just lost everything they have in a fire. Aren't these Democrat members of Council supposed to be the party of compassion?

The fire tax failed last time by a vote of 6-4. It is scheduled for either first reading or a vote on May 26th. District 6 Councilwoman Lindsay Webb asked for a public hearing on the matter the last time it was up for consideration, but didn't have the support of her fellow members of council.

You need to act - or we'll all be faced with more government taxation.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner: 419-245-1001
mayor.toledo@toledo.oh.gov

Toledo City Council: 419-245-1050

Michael.ashford@toledo.oh.gov

Phillip.copeland@toledo.oh.gov

Joe.mcnamara@toledo.oh.gov

George.sarantou@toledo.oh.gov

Betty.shultz@toledo.oh.gov

Mark.sobczak@toledo.oh.gov

Frank.szollosi@toledo.oh.gov

Wilma.brown@toledo.oh.gov

Mike.craig@toledo.oh.gov

Dmichael.collins@toledo.oh.gov

Tom.waniewski@toledo.oh.gov

Lindsay.webb@toledo.oh.gov

And if you don't live in Toledo, this still impacts you. This billing is for any person or entity that receives services, including people who are travelling through the city, so those of you who come into our fair city have every right to express you opinion, too.

5 comments:

Hooda Thunkit said...

Maggie,

I've made my opinion and direction to City Council known on this matter but I can't help but wonder how many of my fellow citizens/voters have also done so.

Using Betty Schultz's logic, if they don't write or call and object, then they (all) must be okay with this...

To me it is clearly deception on the part of the City, claiming soft billing only, yet keeping wording to the contrary in the legislation.

Do they really think that we're stupid enough to trust what they say over the actual wording included in the legislation?

And you're exactly right, sooner more likely than later, it'll cost us more as insurance companies "adjust" their rates to cover the added liability.

To date, I have received only one response from our 12 "fearless leaders..."

Obviously this is a no brainer and I suspect that there are enough "no brain" votes on Council to pass this fiasco, which has me pondering adopting a "throw the bums out" attitude.

navyvet said...

Wow Maggie,

Awesome summary...

We are way past torches and pitchforks.

Carol said...

Maggie - It would seem as though some type of critical intervention is needed in Toledo. I'm just not sure who would/could come to the rescue.

Unfortunately the residents feel so displaced and disheartened that many don't bother to get involved, or feel that even if they try it won't do any good. And maybe they are right.

If I had the instant cure for apathy ...

On one of our homes in Toledo (just one) we are already paying >$1,000 year in taxes - up from $800 just 2 years ago. Part of that money is supposed to be filtered back to the city to supply necessary services such as fire and police. And I'm sure that that is being done.

So ... that leaves us to learn that while the appropriate amount of funds are being passed back to the city there is a GROSS level of fiscal mismanagement happening - and has been happening for many years.

Here's my suggestion: Reduce my property taxes by the amount designated for fire, police and garbage pickup. I will then be glad to pay per use of each service. But I will be figuring the bill based on my interpretation of a fair rate.

Note to Toledo City Council: GET OUT OF OUR WALLETS!!! GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER OR GET THE HELL OUT OF TOWN.

Tim Higgins said...

Maggie,

You must learn to give credit where credit is due.

In spite of all of the information that you and other have provided regarding the "facts" of where this money will actually come from; they insist on ignoring the boh those facts, and the additional one that $500,000 is a long way from a balanced budget.

I suspect that the voters are becoming fed up with the antics and cowardice being shown by both the Mayor and Council. I likewise suspect that this attitude turn to action in the coming election.

maryb said...

Hi Maggie: I'm posting on behalf of the insurance companies providing homeowners coverage to Toledo residents. We surveyed insurers on this issue and at least 41% of homeowners policies exclude any coverage when the home fire is located within the city or municipality providing the fire dept. service. Those that do typically limit coverage to $500. Our study is online at:
http://tinyurl.com/cg8jdf.
For those who haven't read the ordinance, Section 3 lists specific billing fees-a truck showing up at the fire will run $500, and you get billed for every piece of equipment, firefighter and even disposable gloves!
What this means is that even if you have the $500 limited coverage for a fire service run, it'll be eaten up by just a truck coming to your residence.
Contrary to reports, the ordinance states (as you have posted) in both its introduction and in Section 6 that homeowners are responsible for fire-related expenses not covered by insurance.
More importantly, this poses a public safety risk. What happens if a resident attempts to put out a fire instead of calling for help? That's a possibility knowing they could be on the hook for several thousands by just making that call. What happens if that person is injured or the fire spreads to a neighboring property?
The bottom line is that this ordinance poses a risk to public safety and it's going to affect the pocketbook of any Toledo homeowner who requires fire department assistance.
I hope your efforts can make a difference in making local voters aware of the impending consequences of this proposed ordinance.

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