I’m going to beat the dead horse for a few more moments. I have found myself embroiled in the workings of the very topic on which I harped in my last post, so it’s at least very near, if not so dear, to me as of late.
I was graced with the pleasurable opportunity to have a few moments to drop by the bi-weekly meeting of our municipal city council today. As they dutifully trudged through the first reading of the FY 2010-2011 budget, I heard, over and over again, the buzzwords of private sector business and industry: “Efficiency.” “Value.” “Cost.” All those words that we know will mean nothing when the 5% happens.
But why shouldn’t a group of elected officials with backgrounds in business expect “efficient” service provision? Why should the CPAs and middle managers and factory workers who we serve not expect to get more bang for their buck? These are folks who, almost without exception, have absolutely no idea what we do. (This is our fault, and up to us to change. Another day, another post.) The longtime, endearing attitude that cops and firemen are heroes and should have palm fronds lining the streets as we drive past is being replaced by something resembling a popular opinion that government (local government, that is, as we lack the ability to print more reserve notes) should operate with some modicum of fiscal conservation. Go to any “Oh Dear Firefighters are Being Laid Off” news article and scan the reader comments. You’ll see what I mean.
After reading my last post, a reader commented (thank you, by the way) that he does not believe there is anything that we, as the boots on the ground, can do to cut our losses in the financial melee that is upon us. In some places, this may very well be true. The mayor has spent all of your money having her nails done, and the cash just isn’t there. However, in most places, it’s simply a matter of allocating the available resources to the areas in which the perceived need is greatest.
So let’s look for a moment at how many customers utilize the services they’re paying for (at least anecdotally, simply by customer volume, in my fairly average jurisdiction):
- Trash collection, so rats don’t overrun the streets 100%
- Water treatment and delivery, so we can bathe our… 100%
- Sewage transport and treatment, so we can use the potty 100%
- Roadway maintenance and repair, so we can drive to work 100%
- Cops, via can’t-happen-here feel-good visibility 100%
- Cops, via actual calls for police service ~20%
- “Emergency” medical services ~10%
- Big, strong firemen coming to extinguish the blazing inferno <1%
Please don’t take this the wrong way, but 9/11 was nine years ago, folks. The collective memory is short and the “I heart FDNY” hoodies are starting to fade. Looks like we are out of sight, out of mind—and soon to be out of money if something doesn’t change.
The garbage truck drives by my house once a week, driving rain, oppressive heat, bitter cold notwithstanding. When I flush the commode, the contents go to a magical place where I no longer have to worry about them, whether I push the lever once a day or twenty times. This happens for every other resident of your response area. They like it that way. The cops call it “community oriented policing” when they drive around with their patrol car windows down and talk to children, and they’re still getting free tanks and helicopters. People are much more likely to forget about the price tag and buy into the “efficiency-be-damned, we’re here to maximize effectiveness” arguments we will have to make if we’re doing something that positively affects their day-to-day.
When was the last time the residents of your community saw one of your apparatus, staffed with your normal contingent, doing something for them (this does not include waving to the attractive female citizens as you drive into the parking lot of Burgers-R-Us)? I’m not saying we need to be cleaning curtains for the little old lady down the street, but we should simply be productive and visible as we work to improve the quality of life of our members and citizens. If we’re hiding behind the bay doors in the name of station duties, “safety breaks,” or administrative nonsense, we’re going to end up getting exactly what we deserve.