As the new year comes to a close, the city turns its focus yet again to its budget. Well before the ball drops at Times Square, there are already reports of the city facing yet another massive budget deficit in 2011, and ideas to help save money or generate new revenue have been floated publicly.
In recent years, the politicians have been pulling out old threats of closing firehouses, trimming down the police force and shortening the pick-up days for refuse. Taxpayers are threatened that they will lose vital services if the “tough decisions” on tax hikes or lesser cuts are not made.
Some ideas put forth amount to attempts by city officials to make the taxpayers of this city pay a double tax. If they could, they would probably find a way to make residents pay three times for the same service.
Take, for instance, the newest idea of the Fire Department: charging for its response to car crashes or fires, even in cases when there is injury to persons.
Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano, who was charged by the City Council and the Mayor’s office to trim his budget, pointed out that other American cities such as Buffalo, Dallas and San Francisco already employ this practice. Comparing the FDNY to these smaller fire departments is like comparing the grammar school yearly play with a Broadway production. There’s no contest. The services the FDNY provides are second to none.
If the politicians were willing to work hard enough, they can find other ways of trimming the budgets of the Fire, Police and Sanitation departments and any other service agency. It can start by changing the rules on retirement for civil servants.
Firefighting, law enforcement and hauling trash are largely jobs for young, able-bodied people. Being 50 or 60 years old makes it pretty damn hard to run up multiple flights of stairs, carry large equipment, chase dangerous criminals along city streets and haul heavy garbage cans and the debris of the city.
The rewards of these jobs has become the option of leaving after 20 years of service, with a very healthy pension that has been jacked up with enormous amounts of overtime prior to retirement. But there is no reason why these same employees cannot work in their respective offices when they are past the physical demands of the job. These workers have the advantage of experience and office work will not physically tax them.
Putting these workers on desk duty after 20+ years on the streets would help the city reduce the costs of its pension, which is slowly eating away at its finances. The move would also reduce the need for civilian employees.
This new way of utilizing personnel is not without problems; certainly, the unions would protest such an idea vehemently. But a strong mayor and City Council members could make it happen if they’re willing to take a stand.
Nickel-and-diming the hard-working people of New York has gone on long enough. Instead of charging people for getting into an accident, the city should look within to get its financial house in order.
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