In North Las Vegas, as in most places, the recession is causing tax revenues to fall. The city has undergone five rounds of budget trims since December, 2008, and now aims to cut an additional $33.4 million from planned spending to make it through fiscal year 2011. So the city announced this month it might have to cut as many as 273 jobs — 21 of them from the Fire Department.
Needless to day, the unionized fireman aren’t taking that lying down.
Instead, to generate more hours of work and thus justify their highly paid jobs, the firemen now seek to drive emergency patients to local hospitals — and bill them for this service — rather than turning them over to private ambulance companies for transport.
The change would produce revenue for the city and “hopefully prevent the loss of some of our fire service folks,” says Fire Chief Al Gillespie.
The chief estimated that if the change is adopted, the department would go from transporting about 25 patients each month to 375. That would net about $1.6 million per year for the city, he said.
What a great idea!
Yes, yes, that would mean the city “is trying to fix their budget shortfall by taking revenue and jobs from the private sector and shifting it to the public sector to minimize the impact on public employees,” complains John Wilson, local general manager of the private ambulance service that currently transports most of North Las Vegas’ emergency patients.
His firm might have to lay off at least a dozen taxpaying, private-sector employees if the change is adopted, claimed Mr. Wilson, who also challenged the notion that the added ambulance fees should be viewed as pure gravy.
“How can you take on additional work and not think that expenses are going to rise?” Mr. Wilson asked.
But that’s just sour grapes by another greedy capitalist. Which is more important, keeping private, taxpaying businesses in business and providing competent services to the public at the lowest possible cost, or finding something for our underemployed firemen to do, in order to justify their continued salaries — which now average $104,000 in North Las Vegas, $155,000 if you count benefits — and the lifelong pensions that taxpayers then pay them for many decades after they retire?
It’s a no-brainer! Next, I hope the North Las Vegas City Council will authorize the firemen to open fast-food franchises with drive-through windows at their fire stations. And maybe DVD rental services, as well. So what if a couple of nearby burger joints and so-called “private video stores” have to close their doors and lay off staff? What does the city need with those low-paid clowns, anyway? Are those the kinds of jobs we want? Certainly not! The taxpayers would much prefer to see $100,000 uniformed firemen cooking our burgers and asking “Do you want fries with that?”
For the irony deprived, the idea of finding “new things for the firemen to do” so that taxpayers can continue to go bankrupt keeping them in the lap of luxury is absurd.
No one is saying firefighters aren’t fine folks or that local municipalities shouldn’t have any, at all. But municipal personnel and pension costs grew at unsustainable rates during the go-go-years, and both the number of personnel and their salaries and benefits must now be slashed to sustainable levels — something that shouldn’t be all that hard to do, when many of those $100,000 firemen have so much extra time on their hands that they’re now running private businesses on the side.
The North Las Vegas City Council tabled discussion of the plan on Feb. 18. If they follow their usual pattern, that means they’ll wait to approve it till fewer people are paying attention.
Another option which the Council supposedly has under discussion involves canceling the existing private ambulance provider’s franchise agreement and establishing a competitive bidding process for transport services. Providing the city doesn’t arbitrarily violate terms of an existing contract — or use this as an excuse to hand a new contract to the firemen when no one is watching (“What? You wanted to bid, too? Ohhhh … too late!”) — that makes far more sense.