Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Charity Runs Cold

Fifteen years ago, Sylvia Moore (no relation to your humble correspondent) bought an old, historic apartment building in Jerome, Idaho as an investment property and a source of income for retirement.  She had an antique store in the building, and also lived there.  

On April 30, a tenant left a hot glue gun on a plastic chair and forgot about it.  This started a fire that destroyed the building, displaced 12 families, and sent Sylvia Moore's retirement income up in smoke.  It was the biggest fire in the history of Jerome.

And would lead to a huge financial hit for Sylvia Moore, over and above the loss of her property.  She not only lost everything; the other day, the city of Jerome billed her for the cost of putting out the fire, to the tune of almost $100,000.00.  Due June 21st.  "The city of Jerome taxpayers put forth a lot of the efforts to extinguish this fire," says Jerome Fire Chief Jack Krill, "and we want to try and recover that taxpayer money the best we can."

Well, presumably, Sylvia Moore is also a taxpayer, and has contributed at least her fair share over the fifteen years she owned the now-destroyed apartment building.  One had thought the idea of a city running a fire department paid for by taxpayer dollars was precisely as a sort of risk pool, so that firefighting services would be available to all members of the community at need, and with no one member bearing the crushing expense of such a service entirely on his own, on top of his other losses.

Of course, in an age when a woman who has lost everything and who has not been accused of wrongdoing gets a $100,000.00 bill for firefighting services, maybe I am using that word "community" a little loosely.  When did ruthlessness become the default setting in our relations with our neighbors?   Has kicking people when they're down always been an American tradition?  Of course it would be nice for the taxpayers to be able to recoup their costs, but would that be right if it requires the taxpayers to harden their hearts against an innocent property owner, and bring about her utter ruination?  Would it be right, in a word, if it requires a further tearing of the already shredded fabric of brotherliness and neighborliness and community?  Is this in line with the Christian principles upon which this nation was founded?

Charity runs ever colder in our society, and once again, we see that this is brought about at least as much by those of us who flatter ourselves as being upright, responsible, and virtuous as by the flagrantly irresponsible, lazy and dissolute.

UPDATE: The city attorney for the city of Jerome has called Sylvia Moore and told her she should not have been billed for firefighting services.  The story describes city officials as having said the bill was a "mistake."  It is not clear that that is the exact term city officials used, but it is certainly a curious description for (a) a three-page itemized statement that someone had to have spent a lot of time putting together, that (b) was quite deliberately and publicly rationalized by the city fire chief to the media.  At any rate, it appears the bill is off.  Sylvia Moore is awaiting written confirmation.

SECOND UPDATE: It seems the city did not call the bill a "mistake."  They called it an "error."  Right down to the $347.00 for food, the $57.00 for erosion damage repair, and the $700.00 for the busted fire nozzle.


  1. All over Western so-called civilization, this sort of selfish evil is happening. Part of it is a growing institutionalized hatred for the old. Example: since last year, I have lived in two large areas of the NHS where the clinics do not accept private paying patients. In these areas, I cannot get pay as you go healthcare. Prayers for Ms

  2. In 1969 I was the first on the scene of a forest fire and fought it for a half hour before "real" firefighters showed up. For my efforts, the regional ranger's station billed me for the cost of the fire suppression on the implicit assumption that I was there so I must have started it!

    BTW, you pay for socialized ambulance service through your taxes; should you actually need one, you'll also be billed for it. Been that way since the late 70s in Ada County.