/* Style Definitions */
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
font-family:"Times New Roman","serif";}
What happens when corporate taxation takes such priority that companies are able to create their own “cities” to escape paying property taxes?
East St Louis, Illinois. That is what happens.
Today, the citizens of East St Louis are facing further degradation of their city. The current path is not new, or even that unexpected. But it was and is wholly without a rational explanation in the United States, a nation of unprecedented wealth.
Within the next month or so, the reality of a single engine response to any structure fire in East St Louis is very much the reality-unless some unparalleled intervention occurs. This “plan” to save money is not only ill-advised, but will guarantee that the City of East St Louis accelerates its sad spiral into oblivion. A three person engine company can do little on its own, other than to spray water from the outside of a building. No interior operations can be safely taken, without inviting serious injury or death to those first responders.
The die has been cast-and a poor decision it is, indeed!
The obvious question for many is, “So what? The City doesn’t have the money, so they have to cut costs. Why should the fire department be spared from sharing in the sacrifice.?”
In most communities, large and small, whether full-paid career or volunteer, the fire department is that one point of hope when everything seems to be coming apart at the seams. This unraveling does not need to be a disaster that one could find leading the news report at the top of the hour on CNN or MSNBC. It merely needs to be that single family home that has a fire. Saving people and pets, and hopefully those precious mementos of a family’s life together is what the fire department provides, without regard to any consideration. The firefighters go in and make valiant efforts to stop the world from unraveling for that family.
In East St Louis, the decline has been gradual since the end of World War II. At the start of the 20th century, it had a population of well above 80,000 people. It was a booming community that lived well and worked hard on the railroads and the Mississippi River, shipping chemicals and other finished goods across the country and the world.
But that slow change started when chemical companies such as Monsanto and Big River Zinc hatched an insidious and cynical plot to maximize their profits. Instead of paying property taxes to the City of East St Louis, the decided to carve off a small number of homes that were abutting and near their properties, and incorporated their own “cities.” This ingenious plot allowed the corporations, who already had their own chemical fire brigades control all costs, and pay virtually no taxes. From a corporate board room, this probably looked like a wining idea-at least for the shareholders, but not the residents of East St Louis.
This starvation of funding lead to increasing property taxes on the residents of East St Louis, and eventual service cuts starting in the 1970s. This forced many of the middle class residents to seek other living arrangements, as the costs to live in the city rose at the same time as services fell. No garbage collection, minimal police patrols, almost no ability recruit qualified teachers, and now essentially the elimination of any aggressive interior firefighting has put East St Louis into no-man’s land-all because a couple of corporations decided that their shareholders living far away are more important than the community in which their plants are located.
When the argument in the public forum for “sensible taxation” reaches the fevered pitch that it is irresponsible to “ask” a corporation to simply pay their fair share, conditions are created that lead eventually to East St Louis. Almost any city in the US is subject to this very reality. One may not necessarily see it in their lifetime, but it will happen eventually when there exists within a city a single industry, or a few larger employers who decide that they have the “right” to demand an unreasonable reduction in their support of the local community.
One study from 1996 listed the value of Sauget, Illinois, the “community” in which Big River Zinc is located, at $200 million. That same year, Monsanto Corp, who is also in a similar boutique “town” posted a $6 billion profit. Consider that an average city, the size of East St Louis at that time, would have had an annual budget of approximately $30 million, to fund all city services at the level necessary to service a population of 38,000 people.
If these companies would have remained within the city of East St Louis, and only paid 2% --TWO PERCENT of their property value, this would have generated $10 million for the tax rolls! This is using the assumption that each company “town” has roughly the same equalized property value among the at least five corporations that used this manipulation.
The issue that is now pressing down on East St Louis is the impending loss of the last viable community organization upon which the residents rely. The urban decay that has plagued East St Louis for decades will only become worse. With the majority of residents living at or below the poverty level, with the majority of the population only having a high school diploma, and the job prospects dismal, and half of the city’s usable land vacant, burned out homes will only further exacerbate this living conditions.
More burned out homes and buildings will translate into even more desperate living conditions. This increased desperation will lead to increased crime in a community that is already more deadly than most Third World countries. But this increase in crime will not be limited to the city of East St Louis. It will spill over into the surrounding area. As East St Louis suffered, the crime rates in St Louis, MO increased. This is a reality that cannot be ignored elsewhere, and it cannot be ignored any longer in East St Louis.
While the residents of East St Louis may not be politically connected, or have any great sway with the power brokers, the citizens of Illinois and Missouri need to act. The answers are not easy, nor are the actions that need to be taken. A regional governing authority should be established that captures those areas that once historically belonged within the statutory limits of East St Louis, but were only carved away for a cynical money saving scheme, and restores a modicum of sensible funding to support those essential city services in the area, such as police and fire.
Decrying “government” because it has cost fails to realize what it is that government does provide. If you live in a community that does not have hundreds of burned out and abandoned structures, consider yourself fortunate. If you live in a community that is able to roll-out a fire response that meets national response standards established by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and the National Fire Protection Association, count your blessings. If you cherish your home and its belongings, and you love your family and place their safety as a top priority, and public safety is there to insure that for you, fight for it and maintain it.
For all of the above, consider the residents of East St Louis, and that they do not have that level of safety and security for their families, and most do not possess the means to escape that reality. Realize that the firefighters of East St Louis have been placed in the undesirable position of having to essentially watch as a person’s world unravel because they will not be able to safely intervene.
Remember that the reason civilized society created the earliest forms of government was for protection of the group. As Americans, we cannot be so parochial that we only consider the needs of those people in our immediate neighborhood. We have to be concerned for all of our brothers and sisters who are Americans, regardless of their language, creed, color, sexual orientation, education, socio-economic abilities, or where they live.
Also, for an average community of 40,000 people, when they shave off a dozen or two dozen firefighting positions, the resulting savings that an average taxpayer will see only amounts to $20 per year per home, yet the fire insurance rates will double or triple. But this into perspective, most communities that are rated at and ISO Class 4 will expect that average annual fire insurance premium to be in the neighborhood of $400 a year. Drop into a Class 6, and that rate is doubled.
What East St Louis is facing is an ISO Class 8 or 9, or $1,200.00 a year for fire insurance, if it can be purchased at all. The next step for East St Louis is a classification of “uninsurable.” When one considers that most people are barely able to survive, that translates into fewer homes insured, more burned out and vacant properties, and more misery.
And all of this resulted because a few companies had some cynically motivated profit scheme to ensure their shareholders did not miss out on a few pennies each year.
Contact the Illinois State Legislature and the Governor’s Office to demand some emergency funding to stave off these draconian cuts. Demand that a regional/metropolitan solution be created that has these chemical companies paying their fair share. See the website below to make a donation of any amount to help at least keep some of the threatened layoffs from occurring. Make noise in your community to ensure that these cuts and foolish tax giveaways are not considered. You have the data available to you to know where these decisions lead. Don’t let them happen!
Please visit the website below. Watch the video. See how it is to be in a fire as a firefighter, and please realize that this video will be a memento of the past if these cuts are instituted, as there will be no interior firefighting. The scenes of the water being sprayed on the house from the outside will be the only firefighting that happens, resulting in more vacant homes.
http://www.eslfire.com to see the East St Louis firefighters' efforts to save their City.