Fire Fee Questioned
Rumors that the city’s Fire Service Fee was not being fairly implemented and administered have been speculated on for years. Through the use of a “Freedom of Information Act” request, I was able to gain access, and review, some of those records and documents. As a result of that cursory review, I can only say that the rumors have not been exaggerated. My findings revealed that not everyone is being billed for the Fire Service Fee, square footage calculations on commercial buildings are not being used in some cases and are not accurate in others. It appears that selective enforcement or gross mismanagement plays a role in most of the problems my brief review uncovered. When I attempted to ask questions of the city’s finance director, he advised me that he was instructed (by the city solicitor) to tell me to submit any of my questions in writing to the city solicitor. Subsequent to my review, and as instructe by the city solicitor, I sent the mayor, council, and members of the city administration a letter outlining some of these discrepancies, asked specific questions, and offered some recommendations for improving the administration of the Fire Service Fee.
To this day (Saturday, April 6), I have not received a response to specific cases cited as being mismanaged, under-reported (calculations), and why some persons and entities are not being billed at all. I did get a verbal response from the fire chief/city manager, stating he was present during a review of my letter to see if my observations had any merit. His conclusion, based on the review with the city finance director, and others, was, and I paraphrase, “my findings were, for the most part, inaccurate and in some cases downright falsehoods.” This response was identical to an email response I received from a councilperson. I told both the fire chief/city manager and the councilman to be specific in refuting my claims, and do so on a case by case basis. I further advised that I had copied some of the records I viewed, and unless they were able to point out specific instances of inaccuracy, and/or falsehoods, I stand by the charges leveled in my letter to them dated March 22. A copy of that letter is available to anyone wishing a copy by emailing me at email@example.com.
Overall, I came away with the impression that the administration and enforcement of the Fire Service Fee has not been a priority to this, as well as past, administration(s). I now understand why there was some resistance (had to file an FIOA request) to my gaining access to the records. The records showed there are a number of persons and entities who owe the city in excess of $600,000. The non-payers owe anywhere from a few thousand dollars to a high in excess of $40,000. As my review was cursory in nature, I was unable to determine how much of the delinquent fees have already been written off as uncollectable. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was hundreds of thousands, since the Fire Service Fee ordinance was enacted.
In the councilperson’s response they stated, “Basically when looked at the particular references made by you the tax and collections were in fact correctly assessed and collected.” Barring receipt of any evidence to support that claim, I stand by all of the comments I made in my direct letter to the mayor, council, and the city administration. The fact the city is owed in excess of $600,000 casts doubt on his last statement “correctly assessed and collected.”
Instead of the mayor, council, and city administration looking for ways to defend this poorly administered program, they might serve the taxpayers better if they launched an in-depth review and investigation, using my initial observations as a starting point.
Trust me when I say my findings are only the tip of the iceberg. Also, the current administration inherited this program and how it has been administered; their only fault lies with burying their heads in the sand, defending it, and not moving forward with a complete audit to identify its shortcomings, and initiating corrective action(s).
Will Rogers said it best: “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.”
Please feel free to share this letter with your friends.
Hope springs eternal!