Monday, May 24, 2010

Proper Inspections Require Proper Inspectors

Over the past few weeks I’ve read twice about a proposal that would lead to mandatory rental unit inspections in the city of Troy. These inspections, as I read, would be conducted by city firefighters. I’m not completely “sold” on the concept yet and I can’t help but question the logic behind why firefighters would be utilized to conduct these inspections.

For the past several years the Troy UFA has pleated to the city council and the Mayor to hire more fireman. Their claim is that the current staffing and coverage levels puts themselves and city residents at risk should the department receive several calls for service, substantial in nature, within a short time of each other. Honestly, I don’t know if this is a justifiable claim or not, but let’s assume for a moment that it is. The UFA has asked for 8 more firefighters, I believe. In the past I’ve heard that the cost of adding a single new fireman to the force is approximately $150,000 (includes salaries, training costs, etc.) I’ve also heard in the past that for every $100,000 of expense added to the city’s budget equates to a 1% tax increase should insufficient revenue be available to offset the increased costs. If there isn’t a sufficient level of firefighters to perform their current firefighting and EMT duties, how can the city burden them with additional duties that are completely unrelated to their specialized trade? The current force and any additional members that will be added in the future will need to be specially trained to perform these residential inspections. There is a lot of expense that will be attached to this plan. Let’s not forget that there is a union contract at play here too that details what the duties of firefighters are, how will this be impacted? And let’s not forget about the union that represents the individuals who probably are best suited to perform this inspection function, the CSEA that represents the members of the city’s Code Enforcement department. Could there be an inter-city dispute between labor unions over whose duty and responsibility it is to perform these residential inspections? Why wouldn’t or, most importantly, why isn’t code enforcement being considered as the inspection agent under this proposal? They have the training already and expansion of their department might be less costly than that of the fire department. There will be an administrative function and expense attached as well, who manages the database, code enforcement? If code enforcement were to manage it, why couldn’t they perform the inspections?

Now let’s quickly assume that that the rental unit inspection program proceeds as described at this point in time, in its infancy, and the existing workforce of firefighters now adds inspections to their daily duties. Doesn’t this now create a greater public safety risk should there be calls for service and firefighters are out inspecting residential units? I would believe so. So, this leads one to believe that additional firefighters would be a necessity, probably over and above the 8 already requested.

Public safety should always be paramount and that is why I believe the firefighters should remain focused on their specialized trade and not be lead down the wrong path by promises made by part-time politicians touting additional duties equal additional pay and equal additional staffing. I am not questioning the ability, dedication, or effectiveness of our City’s Bravest, our firefighters. I have absolute respect for what they do each day to help keep all of us safe. They have a very specific purpose just as our Code Enforcement officers do. The training and expertise of the code officers lend themselves to more effective and a more cost efficient residential inspections. Additionally, if one of the primary issues of these inspections is ensuring smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in place surely this is something that a code enforcement officer does on a daily basis.

As of late, government officials at all levels, local, state, and federal, continue to concoct grand pieces of legislation to improve or reform issues, but what they end up creating are cumbersome and confusing laws that ultimately end up cost the taxpayers more to fund than the perceived payoff. Let’s be smart here, government should be streamlining operations and reducing redundancies that are costly to taxpayers. I agree Troy needs stricter code enforcement, let’s do, but let’s do it the correct way, please… for once?

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