MORE LEGISLATIVE TINKERING.
A bill is before the Assembly at Albany to amend the charter of the city of New York. It is nearly time we had a new charter—we haven’t had one for three or four years, and the one we have is getting pretty well worn. There is, no doubt, abundant opportunity for reform in the management of city affairs, but such reforms should be suggested by experience and matured by intelligence. These characteristics are not to be found in all the proposed changes in our city charter. In regard to the Fire Department, evidently the change proposed is not the suggestion of a man of experience in fire matters, tor it is incongruous in substance and defective in detail. It provides that the Fire Department shall consist of four Commissioners, who shall elect a President to be head of the Department. The Board shall be non-partisan, two being taken from each party, at a salary of $4000, and each hold office for five years. The terms of office of the present Commissioners shall terminate at the expiration of their office. A bureau of building and construction is attached to the Fire Department, with a Superintendent appointed by the Commissioners, at a salary of $4000. The following salaries are fixed : Chief of the Department, $3500 ; Assistant Chief, $2000; Chiefs of Battalions, each, $1500; Inspector of Combustibles, $1500; Surveyor, $1200; Oil Surveyor, $1200; Chief Clerks of the Bureau of Combustibles, each, Si 500; Clerks, each, $i200; Oil Collectors, each, $8oo; Janitor, $200 ; Fire Marshal, $2000; First Assistant, $1400; Second Assistants, each, $800; Clerks, each, $1000; Foreman, SHOO; Assistant Foreman. $1000; Engineers, each, $1200; Assistants, $1000; Firemen, $800.
The proposition for a non-partisan Board of Commissioners is excellent, only it is impracticable. Instead of selecting non-partisans for Commissioners, the rule has been, in other Departments, to select two violent Republicans and two “ red-hot ” Democrats, all of the most partisan nature. In the Police Board, this has led to interminable quarrels, the demoralization of the force, the disgrace of the city, and of the Commissioners individually. So long as mere politicians are appointed to office, a non-partisan Board is an impossibility. The representatives of the opposing parties get together, and, without abating anything of their political hostility, agree to divide the spoils of office as nearly even as possible, and then each watches for an opportunity to get the best of the bargain. If there is to be any change in the Board, we hope men may be selected who have some knowledge of the requirements of the service, and whose political affiliations have not been of a character to bring them into prominence. If, however, partisans are to be selected, the addition of one Republican to those now in office will give the city as efficient a Board of Fire Commissioners as it is ever likely to have. The present incumbents have all been Firemen, are familiar with their duties and with the Department, and, if they were not all active politicians, could scarcely be improved upon.
The proposition to create within the Department a bureau of building and construction, is one THE JOURNAL has zealously advocated heretofore. At present the Department of Buildings is wholly independent of the Fire Department, and is, probably, the most corrupt and worst managed branch of the City Government. The Fire Department is, unquestionably, the proper one to have charge of the erection of buildings, and t verything pertaining to changes in the construction of existing ones. At present officers of the Department are authorized to inspect buildings, and to report where they find defects in construction, or a lack of life-saving means. Numerous reports of this character are made and referred to the Building Department, but are seldom heard of again. It is alleged that the building inspectors are open to the blandishments of national currency, and that notes of the proper denominations arc effectual in securing the suppression of these teports. However this may be, the lives of members of the Fire Department are in constant peril from badly constructed buildings, and the power should be vested in that Department to compel these evils to be remedied. As a matter of economy, also, the change would be a good one, as the numerous officials of the Building Department can be dispensed with, and their duties performed by the officers of the Fire Department.
A very general reduction in the salaries of the members of the uniformed force is proposed, as will be seen. The salaries at present paid are as follows: Chief of Department, $4700; Assistant Chief, $3000; Chiefs of Battalions, $2500; Foremen, $1500; Assistant F’oremen, $1300; Engineers, $1300; Assistant Engineers, $1250; Firemen, $1200. The several Chiefs, F’oremen and Assistant F’oremen, are selected because of their practical knowledge of the business, obtained by many years of hard service, and because of their ability to command men. Engineers and their Assistants are skilled mechanics, as a rule, and entitled to receive the wages of such. The prices named for officers of the uniformed force in the new bill are unreasonably low. It is little encouragement for active young men to enter the service when the compensation allowed for risking life and limb, is, after years of hard service, little more than that paid to common laborers, or to ordinary mechanics, who work regular hours and take no risks. A man must go through a severe experience and serve for years before he is advanced to the position of a Foreman, and his experience and services are worth more than would be paid to an ordinary salesman in a dry goods store or a clerk in a counting house, who work six or eight hours a day only, while a F’ireman is on duty twenty-four hours every day. The attempt was made some time since to graduate the pay of Firemen, and new appointees were paid but $800 a year. This is a fair and reasonable distinction, and one that ought to be made, between inexperience and long service. Any reduction in the pay of the uniformed force must tend to impair its efficiency. From the lowest to the highest, the salaries now paid are not more than adequate compensation for the services rendered. If it be said that the proposed salaries are equal to what skilled mechanics receive, the reply is that mechanics work ten hours a day, while the F’iremen are on duty all the time. They are separated from their families, sleep in the Engine-houses, and only get home for their meals. Their pay should be regulated by the conditions of their business, and not by the circumstances under which other persons generally work.
While there are some features in the proposed amendment to the charter, affecting the I-‘ire Department, which commend themselves, the clause cutting down salaries is oppressive, and, if adopted, cannot fail to work injury to the service. We hope to see it defeated, and trust influence will be brought to bear on the Legislature to ensure a revision of the schedule.