A couple of days ago, a former partner of my husband copied me on a message he sent to his City-County Council representative. It began:
Today we were the recipients of an unannounced revenue enhancement effort “inspection” by a member of the Indianapolis Fire Department, acting under authority of General Ordinance #46, supposedly under the guise of State law.
The message went on to describe a Fire Department program in which individual tenants of commercial buildings were notified of an obligation to “self-inspect” their leased premises –and charged $25 each for that dubious privilege. Those failing to respond were assessed a $60 fine.
The owners of the building were not notified, despite the fact that they would seem to be the parties responsible for maintaining fire safety standards. And as the writer noted, tenant “self-inspections” are unlikely to generate confidence-producing results.
What particularly irked my correspondent–a registered architect who has to comply daily with fire safety regulations–was the fact that the building in which he has his offices is fully sprinklered, has a supervised alarm system, and is regularly inspected by the State Fire Marshall.
The purpose of these laughable “self-inspections” is rather obvious, and it isn’t fire safety. It is, as he asserted, “revenue enhancement.”
The City’s taxing authority has been constrained (unwisely, in my view, but that is a separate conversation), so it is trying to compensate by raising “fees.” The difference between a tax and a fee is that the former is levied on the population at large in order to provide services that benefit the entire citizenry; fees–at least in theory–are levied on the people benefitting from the service.
Fire safety is a good example of the elasticity of this theory. Many years ago–in colonial times, actually–fire protection was a consumer good. Fire departments (privately owned) would respond to fires at the homes of those who could afford the “insurance” they sold. That didn’t work very well, as you might imagine, and lawmakers recognized the benefits of providing “socialized” fire protection.
Thanks to America’s current hysteria over taxation, we seem to be moving back to the bad old days. Affluent neighborhoods are hiring their own “security” in the absence of adequate police protection. And now, we’re evidently going to use a “safety program” to charge commercial occupants for a portion of their fire protection.
This isn’t progress, folks.
Maybe its time for a community-wide discussion of what government is for.