Politics, Money and Public Safety in Greater New Bedford [OPINION]
The battle between the budget and public safety has always been an issue, but COVID-19 has made it more intense. Current civil unrest adds more instability.
The current situation in the city of New Bedford is probably a preview of things to come in Dartmouth, Fairhaven, Freetown, Westport, Wareham, Mattapoisett, Acushnet, and the other SouthCoast towns. There is a fight for resources and questions about priorities.
Mayor Jon Mitchell has consistently fought to try and reduce the costs of operating his gateway city. He has been warning of an inevitable economic downturn for years and preparing for it. Nobody predicted a virus imported from China would be the cause of the current economic calamity.
The biggest budget items in local government are education and public safety. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has laws in place that dictate funding for education. The cities and towns are able to make their own decisions on public safety spending. Back in the 1990s, the town of Lakeville essentially abolished its local police department for months because of a lack of funding.
New Bedford isn't Lakeville. I repeat, New Bedford isn't Lakeville. You can easily ride a bicycle between New Bedford and Lakeville but the differences are tremendous. Imagine the city of New Bedford without a police department?
The professional firefighters of Fairhaven and Dartmouth recently raised concerns about Mayor Mitchell's cuts to New Bedford's fire department. Those neighboring firefighters have a stake in the situation – a life-or-death stake in a worst-case scenario.
The system of mutual aid – departments working together on a moment's notice to supplement each other during a fire or other public safety emergency – has linked the area departments together. It is a great system and everyone benefits from it, especially the taxpayers.
The professional firefighters of Dartmouth and Fairhaven are claiming the mayor is using them as a way to supplement his public safety budget with the resources of the towns. Rather than properly staffing and equipping the city's department, they believe the mayor is shifting the burden to his neighbors. Basically, the mayor is bringing the cheapest item to the Christmas Yankee Swap.
The system of mutual aid is too important to be lost. But the taxpayers of the region are starting to ask questions about their safety and their resources. People trust firefighters when it comes to fires and emergencies. The Freetown Fire Department once saved my father's life and I'm not the only one with a similar story.
Without trained professionals waiting to respond to an emergency, there is no public safety and people die.
Chris McCarthy is the host of The Chris McCarthy Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Chris_topher_Mc. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.