Every time a pipe breaks in Boston, a cop makes 32 bucks.
So everytime a gas pipe leaks, a traffic light burns out, a pothole gets filled, or a catch basin needs cleaning, a cop is there to pick up large chunks of change. It's required by state law, although it seems that MA is the only state with such a law.
Today's Globe included a rather scathing article on Boston's little-known, legally mandated fire details, a $3 million dollar industry with no guiding principles save for the sole discretion of the few chiefs in charge. You can read the whole article here, but I'll touch on the major points.
According to this article, the types of gatherings for which the city requires additional payment include "anything from weddings with candlelit tables to festivals where vendors cook with propane." In the case of the latter, that means that whenever a barbeque is used at a street fair, a fireman makes an extra $32 an hour.
Better still, if the city of Boston tells you that you need four firefighters at your event, you are legally required to pay an even higher hourly rate for a chief to babysit the four firefighters babysitting your event. That tactic is especially useful on large-scale urban cosntruction projects, where firefighters are legally required to act as a human alarm system.
"That's ridiculous," the spokesman of the Chicago FD comments, noting that barely any American cities have such bizarre requirements. Better still, according to the Globe, even after taking in $3 million last year, the city lost $117,000 on the program.
So two questions. Who allows the detail programs, unique in these 50 states, to continue, and who pays for it?
The answer to the first question is the Massachustts fire and police unions, and their crony buddies in the state's hopelessly corrupt pastiche of semigovernments. Of course, the second anyone criticizes these wasteful practices, they are dubbed an enemy of safety. But it doesn't take four police cars to protect a paving crew, as I witnessed on the Mass Pike this summer.
The fire and police unions also insist that private interests always pay, but every bill is ultimately passed on to the citizens. A few weeks ago I saw a utility crew exploring a manhole on the weird section of Comm Ave where the sidewalk is in Boston but the stores themselves are in Brookline (another New England anomaly). There was a police officer from each municipality standing there! Making at least $64 an hour combined. Local electricity rates have gone up close to 35% in the past few months, and I can't help but wonder whether this practice contributed in any way.
In the Globe article, the best quote comes from the guy who has run Boston's Puerto Rican festival. He owes the city $18,000 for past fire details and told the reporter, "If you find out what they do, you let me know."
I'd be curious to hear the answer myself. Whatever the answer, I'm sure it's not one that makes Massachusetts or even Boston more affordable or liveable. It's just one more reason why the "commonwealth" has lost population for the last fourteen consecutive years.