Who Shall Pay the Fire Hydrant Rentals?
A subject which should be of interest especially to officials both of municipal and privately owned water works and also slightly less directly to the fire chief of the city is that of the proper method of payment of the rentals of fire hydrants. As this matter concerns the proper financing of the fire protection system of the city, it will be seen that the fire chief has considerable interest in it. The term “hydrant rentals,” by the way, as pointed out by Mr. Holway, in his paper on the subject on page 103, is a misnomer, as the expense involved is rather the protection of the entire city from fire and is not measured by the amount of water in gallons which is used, but rather the value of the property protected.
The question involved is as to the most equitable way of charging the so-called hydrant rentals and on whom the burden for protecting the city from fire should fall. Should this be charged against the consumer alone or should it be included as an item of general taxation against the citizens of the city or town? The latter would seem to be the most equitable method of raising the money needed for fire protection.
This protection extends to all of the citizens whether they be property owners and water rate payers or not. The tenants of apartments, for instance, who pay no direct water rent are as fully protected by the provisions for fire fighting as are the owners of property who are charged for the water used. If the water rate is so arranged as to cover also this charge for fire protection the citizen who pays no water rate receives his fire protection free and the rate payer is taxed for the protection of his neighbor. True, he helps to defray this expense through the rent which he pays to his landlord, but he may be an extravagant water user and if the amount of fire protection is graded on the amount of water used, the landlord will thus be paying much more of his share for fire protection expense. On the other hand, if the fire protection expense is assessed through general taxation, the burden is equally divided and all share in it, the apartment holder paying his share through the rental charged.
Another view of the matter showing the more equitable method of paying this expense through taxation is the fact that the owner of a $10,000 house receives twice as much protection as the man who owns one worth $5,000 and therefore, should be willing to pay double the amount oi money for such protection. The owner of less valuable property might easily, however, use twice as much water as the man who owns the higher priced house or factory and thus, if fire protection were graded according to water rates, the former would be reversing the process and would be paying more for protection than the man who owns the more valuable property.
Thus from whatever standpoint it is viewed, it would seem that the most equitable method of raising money for fire protection is through charging it to the taxpayer and not to the consumer.