The last time this happened, our thread ran for more than 1,100 comments. To refresh your memory: The city charges a $75 fee up front for firefighter services throughout the year. Pay the fee and the F.D. will show up and douse the flames that are consuming your home. Don’t pay and the F.D. will show up and … watch it burn. I can understand a policy in which paying the fee gives you priority over a non-payer if your house and their house are on fire simultaneously and the department has to choose which to respond to. And I can understand a policy where paying a small flat fee discharges you from further responsibility for the cost of fighting the fire whereas a non-payer is forced to reimburse the department for all of their expenses afterward. In that case, the fee operates as de facto fire insurance. What I don’t understand is a policy where the F.D. will show up to a blaze but give the non-paying owner no option to get them to fight it. If the owner’s middle class, he’ll likely have some savings with which to reimburse the department for the cost; if the owner’s poor, he could agree to have his wages garnished going forward to partially reimburse them. Either way, the resulting hardship should be enough of a deterrent to encourage people to pay the fee ahead of time.
If you disagree, then should the fee simply be mandated as a tax? All this is, really, is an analogue for the health-care debate. We don’t let doctors opt to let poor people suffer in an emergency just because they don’t have insurance. Why let a family go homeless?