When silly laws benefit no one
ABC News reports that firefighters in the Tennessee city of South Fulton buying viagra online
news.com/US/tennessee-familys-home-burns-ground-firefighters-stand-watch/story?id=11806407″>refused to put out a fire because of the family’s failure to pay a $75 annual fee for rural fire protection services (the family lived outside of city limits, so the fee was in place of normal city taxes). The firefighters were obligated by law not to put out the fire absent the payment of the fee. Was this justified?
The argument in favor of user fees is that they eliminate problems of free-riding by attaching costs to services. As Jacqueline Byers of the National Association of Counties put it, “If the city starts fighting fires in the homes
of people outside the city who don’t pay, why would anyone pay?”
But because of the way the policy in South Fulton was constructed, a family lost decades’ worth of possessions while the city and fire department were embarrassed nationally. It would have been a simple matter to have surcharged the family after the fact. Many emergency services, such as ambulances, operate on a basis of billing after the fact. In fact, the family offered to pay $500 to fire fighters who arrived to protect a neighbor’s house.
It is not unreasonable to charge people for services; there are, after all, no free lunches. But for firefighters to let a house burn down over a small sum of money makes little sense.
Photo by Flickr user latitudes used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.