Are Union Fire Departments Financially Choking City Taxpayers?

The Following is a former commentary I had posted on my old site. The material continues to be of current relevance as most communities face budget cuts in this grueling national economy. Taxpayers cannot continue to fund the expected union status quo and to be slaves of public service unions, and their higher standard of living expectations and dictates.

A Big Bertha fire dept. gas hog which shows up along with police and medical emergency vehicles

A Big Bertha fire dept. gas hog which shows up along with police and medical emergency vehicles

The cold hard question the Bay City Commission should ask when considering the fire department budget and the city’s overall budget (4/25/08)

How can Bay City Taxpayers continue to afford a fire department which takes a 27% chunk out of the [their] taxpayer revenue budget when only 5.7% of the fire department calls are fire related? Now, I realize that much of a fire department’s budget is eaten up with the necessary firehouse equipment and building overhead maintenance expense. But what legitimate justification can be made for certain duplication of “’safety’ services?”

April 11, 2008, the Bay City Times ran the following news piece:

“Bay City prepares to tackle tough decisions on Fire Department budget, personnel Friday:”

….The fire department made 3,620 emergency medical responses in 2007. Of those, 2,251 calls were for emergency medical service. There were 145 fire calls and 75 structure fires during the same time period….

I’ve witnessed it myself. One day while at the post office I heard the large fire truck race by. By the time I climbed into my car on Third St. I noticed the gathering emergency display at the old Empire Motel. I turned the corner and parked my car on Washington St. witnessing 2 police cars, an Emergency Medical Response truck, and, of course, the large gas guzzling fire engine truck. [And… smoke, and no, fire]

I cannot accept as a resident taxpayer, whose town is going financially broke, that these fire department procedures are necessary – especially when in 2007 there were “only” 220 fire department calls. [BC Times] That amounts to [on average] one (1) fire call, 3 times out of every 5 days during the year when it is legitimately necessary to haul out the full “regalia” of fire department equipment and personnel.

Mind you, 94% of the fire “calls” are medical related, of which police and medical response personnel also show up at the scene. There is no need to haul out the big gas guzzling fire engine trucks manned by 2 firemen. And, if I am not mistaken, some type of insurance reimbursement monies pay for the medical response personnel service. It seems apparent that we strapped taxpayers are paying highly elevated monetary sums for services covered and services not genuinely necessary!

Although a fire department is needed and most necessary for Bay City, — it can no longer be appropriate, logical or economically and sanely feasible to fund a fire department, of which, a significant amount of service ends up being “redundant” [superfluous]. There is no sane reason why resident taxpayers should be forced to pay for duplication of services! [And then, there is the other story of the high priced “disadvantage” of a city in our financial condition] We continue to fund the status quo high (prevailing) union wages and benefits when there are other options, of which, the city commission is exploring.

What does a household consumer do when he finds he is “over-insured?”

Have you ever had an older automobile which did not fit the qualification of insuring it with “full coverage?” Bay City is not the thriving economic community it once was. It is not a tourist Mecca like Traverse City. Neither is it a retirement haven as is the Phoenix Arizona region. Bay City is a community that has lost at least 1/3 (33%) of its population since the 1960’s. Over the past 40 plus years, Bay City has experienced the loss of Defoe Shipbuilding and other significant (tax revenue generating) industries and businesses.

The cold hard fact is that Bay City government has not kept up with the cold hard reality, and adjusted itself accordingly. The parks, police, fire and city administration areas of community government have increased, disproportionately with the poor economic times and depleted population (and tax revenue generated business & industry loss). The ability to be like other (more financially favored) communities is simply not “in the [present] table of cards.”

The Bottom line for the Commissioners who were elected to represent all 9 Ward city residents

The cold hard reality of 27% of Bay City’s total tax revenues (21.5 million) being allocated to just one major government service function, is plainly (and, logically) financially unsustainable. The fire department despite its (consultant study) need not be put on an untouchable idolized pedestal, immune to budget trimming. Bay City’s present reality, [given its paltry economic status and other circumstances], is, that it is “over insured,” in the fire department area.

An alternative method to tackle the annual budget process

The Commission would be wise to budget the major departments of fire, police, parks and city hall administration by percentage apportionment allocation. With that method of apportionment, Commissioners can make more progress, [and, in the process be subject, to less, intimidation every time a complicated / time consuming spending proposal is handed them by the city manager].

Under a “percentage apportionment allocation arrangement” directed to the several city departments, those departments will know how much money (annually, up front), is available for them, and will be challenged and forced to budget their apportioned part of the city taxpayer revenues, prudently. That way, come every Commission meeting, overspending (by various “bond ‘credit cards’”) on part of the City Commission, can be kept at a singular (emergency) level – and this and that city manager requested expenditure, need not be approved, bleeding our city financially dry and adding to the increasing City Debt on our summer tax bills.

The above viable method of percentage department budgeting will help insure overspending and restrain spending proposals that will not benefit the greater majority (65%) plus of the taxpaying residential populous. Bay City residents don’t need to profusely spend out more of our taxpaying monies to “gain” State (taxpayer generated) grant monies which will end up furthering our financial hole of debt, thereby increasing every resident taxpayer’s “City Debt” bill with every increasing year.

Reality cuts can also be made in the other areas of police, parks and, especially, city hall administration. In short, the Commission would be wise to budget cut (on the average) all 4 departments of fire, police, parks and administration by 2% [a total of 8%] so that street maintenance can begin and continue. The taxpaying residents need to have something for their 100% tax portion, of which they are pumping into City Hall government, and, so far, witnessing very little (disproportionate) return.

Rev. Nathan Bickel – Bay City, MI


Please note for reference:

Election Projection – The Battle for Capitol Hill – 2012 Senate –

The Complete List of Email Addresses and Fax Numbers for the U.S. Congress and Governors –

U.S. Constitution Online –


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Nathan M. Bickel

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