Although the hue and cry to reduce taxes is ever present, it is never more so than just prior to national elections, and so it is this year. As Ive previously mentioned, I too would like lower taxes, but at what cost to the services we now take for granted?
My argument for needing at least some taxes for, say, essential services like fire and police, has always been, What if you called 911 and nobody came? Well, now we can ask a rural Tennessee man whose house caught fire and burned to the ground, because he did call 911 and nobody came. As shocking as this sounds, we need to hold the moral outrage for a couple of minutes until we hear the rest of the story. Then we can start on the political discussion.
It all started when Mr. Gene Cranicks son was burning trash in a burn barrel, as is still very common in the more rural parts of our nation. The fire somehow got out of the barrel and into the grass next to the house, and the next thing they knew the house was on fire. Mr. Cranick then did what everyone in our nation past the age of 5 knows to do. He called 911 and reported the fire.
The 911 center apparently told him, and Im paraphrasing here, sucks to be you or tough nuggies or words to that effect. The end result being that no fire services were dispatched to his house. Wait! How can this be?! This is 2010 this shouldnt be happening.
A little history might be in order here. In the 1700s and 1800s, there were fire insurance companies to whom homeowners paid an annual fee for fire service. For this fee, you were issued a cast iron plaque to be prominently displayed by your front door. If you had a fire, the fire company would pull up to see if you had a plaque from the (correct ) insurance company, and then they put your fire out and if not, same as above they did nothing. Thats apparently what you got for being a scofflaw just desserts, as it were.
There was a reason we as a nation retreated away from this type of service houses kept burning down.
However, historys lessons didnt stop this town of South Fulton, Tenessee, which had made the decision ten years ago to provide fire service for a fee of $75.00 per year, in lieu of those dreadful taxes. Everyone knew it, and agreed to it, or at least decided to roll the dice. Mr. Cranick had paid the fee in previous years unfortunately, not this year. Talk about bad timing.
To rub salt in the wound, when it appeared that the fire might spread to his neighbors house (who had paid the fee), 911 did dispatch the fire department, who just stood by to protect the neighbors house, but refused to help Mr. Cranick.
Having been both a career and volunteer firefighter, I could not morally, or ethically, belong to an organization that would allow someones house to burn and do nothing. Personally, I believe there is a duty to act if you are a firefighter, police officer or medically trained person. To render assistance where and when needed. Otherwise, in my opinion, instead of a career, or a calling, it was just a job.
However, other people think differently. So the discussion has moved away from strictly one of should they, or shouldnt they have put the fire out, and onto big government versus very limited government. Large tax bills versus no tax bills. Ah yes taste great vs. less filling.
Did Mr. Cranick get what he deserved? Is he a scofflaw, or has he been unemployed for the last year or so? Did he, or didnt he have the money to pay? If not, shouldnt some other good citizens, or church, help him out? I dont know, and its not for me to say, but Id be willing to bet a couple of doughnuts that every other family in that town has now gladly paid their $75.00.
It boils down to what Ive said, like a drum beat, in previous columns, do you want the services your taxes provide, or dont you? If you do, then you have to pay for them. If you dont, and choose to roll the dice as Mr. Cranick did, then when the dice turn up snake eyes dont complain. Personally, Im happy that I live in a place where I can pay my taxes for both essential, and non-essential services, and know that my water is clean and safe, my trash gets picked up, the kids get a good education and, if I have to call 911, someone will be there in minutes ready to help.
Between now and November 2, think about Mr. Cranick every time you hear some politician stretching the truth, like a banjo string, about lowering your taxes. If youre interested, you can follow up on the story here: http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_upshot/20101005/pl_yblog_upshot/rural-tennessee-fire-sparks-conservative-ideological-debate
Thats my opinion, whats yours?
Rick Godfrey writes a monthly column for fredericknewspost.com.