Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Are towns obligated to provide public services to those who refuse to pay for them?

This story out of Tennessee is interesting for a number of reasons:
A local neighborhood is furious after firefighters watched as an Obion County, Tennessee, home burned to the ground.

The homeowner, Gene Cranick, said he offered to pay whatever it would take for firefighters to put out the flames, but was told it was too late. They wouldn't do anything to stop his house from burning.

Each year, Obion County residents must pay $75 if they want fire protection from the city of South Fulton. But the Cranicks did not pay.

The mayor said if homeowners don't pay, they're out of luck.

This fire went on for hours because garden hoses just wouldn't put it out. It wasn't until that fire spread to a neighbor's property, that anyone would respond.

Turns out, the neighbor had paid the fee.
I hate to sound cold, but personally, I think the guy got what he paid for. I'd give a pass to someone who didn't know that the fee wasn't included in his taxes. And to someone who genuinely couldn't afford to pay the fee. But if you're going to opt out of the fees for basic services, like fire protection? You'd better make sure you don't need those services.

To be honest, I felt bad for the guy up until I read this quote from the homeowner: "I thought they'd come out and put it out, even if you hadn't paid your $75, but I was wrong."

Why did that quote bother me so much? Because it shows the guy's intent to freeload. It brings to mind of an article about the Tea Party rally in Boston earlier this year, during which a woman complained to the Globe about the government's "welfare mentality" before admitting, on the record, that she and her husband and their 10 children (yes, 10) are all on Medicaid. Back in April, David Able wrote:
“The problem in this country is that too many people are looking for handouts," said Valerie Shirk, 43, of Prospect, Conn. “I agree with the signs that say, 'Share my father’s work ethic — not his paycheck.' We have to do something about the whole welfare mentality in this country." ...

When asked why her family used state-subsidized health care when she criticized people who take handouts, Valerie Shirk said she did not want to stop having children, and that her husband’s income was not enough to cover the family with private insurance.

“I know there’s a dichotomy because of what we get from the state," she said. “But I just look at each of my children as a blessing."
That's like sitting in the local library, waiting for your social security check to come via US Mail, while using the free WiFi to complain about how the country is heading down the path to socialism.

But back to the fire in Tennessee. If you deliberately turn down fire protection -- or police protection, or any other public service -- is the town still obligated to serve you?  Where's the line between Libertarianism and social responsibility?

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