Glennon: Calumet Park made right call by privatizing fire services
Mark Glennon, founder of Wirepoints website, thinks Calumet Park officials moving to privatize their fire department is a common-sense approach to dealing with an out-of-control situation.
“It’s a very substantial savings for them,” Glennon told Illinois Rising about the estimated $500,000 the village of about 8,000 residents is expected to save in annual firefighter expenses. “It’s a pretty typical situation for some of these former industrial cities, particularly in the southwest suburbs.”
In the case of Calumet Park, Glennon said, the cost-cutting effort comes after area property values have declined by 28 percent over the last eight years.
“The total property taxes, however—the actual rates—have gone up 40 percent in those years,” he added. “So you’ve got a shrinking tax base but a rising tax bill. For them to save $500,000 is real dough for them.”
The Chicago Tribune reported village officials severed ties with its firefighters union on Nov. 8, signing a five-year deal with Kurtz Ambulance Service to provide fire-suppression and ambulance services across the village at a starting cost of $825,000.
The agreement officially went into effect on Dec. 1, with Kurtz replacing the village’s 30 part-time firefighters with a dozen full timers working in four-person shifts.
Glennon noted this isn’t the first time such a plan has been put forth, but the situation is different in Calumet Park because in other places where it's been suggested, such as North Riverside, most staffers are full time, unionized and armed with collective bargaining rights.
“The obstacles are those collective bargaining rules, because more typically, unions can force things into arbitration, and arbitration basically means the city loses,” he said.
But when you stop to consider how many communities are now forced to shell out as much as 80 percent of all property tax revenues for pensions, Glennon said, it’s clear something has to give.
“That just doesn’t work,” he said. “Pensions are squeezing out everything. At some point, this is going to collapse.”