Is That Too Much to Ask?

by Free Speech on April 20, 2009

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

Lodi, WI-4/20/09
Editorial by Carole Roche

As a transplant from the Daley controlled megacity of Chicago, it has been a revelation to me to discover that politicians in both large and small towns seem to have a common modus operandi –  an aversion to accountability to the people they serve.

Still, while Chicago residents have come to expect a certain amount of shenanigans from their elected officials, I had hoped for something better in a town the size of Lodi. My mistake.

Indeed, the continuing dissension within the Lodi Fire Department provides a glaring example of  the lack of accountability on the  part of certain area leaders – in this case the Lodi Fire Board  – who have failed to explain their reasons behind their noncompliance with an IRS mandate to submit yearly firefighter income on  IRS Form 1099, and to give emergency personnel a $30 monthly tax credit. .

Instead, the Board has been quite content to relay on innuendo and half-truths regarding the LAFD’s problems,and to allow the finger of guilt to point at the firefighters themselves – citing  firefighter greed and lack of commitment as the cause of the continuing dissention within the ranks- a not uncommon ploy for politicians who’d rather not explain their own contributions to the problem.

Yet, it is the Fire Board’s own closed-door decision over a year ago to use a point system to pay fireighters in lieu of hourly wages that is the crux of the department’s current difficulties  – a point system designed to circumvent the IRS mandate while at the same time avoiding IRS fines due to the Town’s continued noncompliance.

And how does the town’s point system work? It is deceptively simple. Instead of paying  fire department personnel for actual hours worked, personnel are given a total of 1 point for each activity attended, including business meetings, training exercises, and emergency calls.

The deceptiveness is obvious and in reality training exercises may go on for two or three hours, while fighting a structural fire may last from six to seven.  Giving a total of 1 point for each (1 point totaled $8 in 2006) is not a  true payment of wages for time worked but simply the Town’s creative? way of getting around an IRS mandate.

Of course, a discussion of this issue was never held in a public forum, and an alternative plan to pay firefighters put forth by the LAFD itself was not considered due to the  Board‘s previous closed door decision on the matter.  Ah, democracy!

Not surprisingly, the alternative plan would have complied with the IRS mandate by changing the method of  LAFD reimbursement from a point system to an employee/employer system between the City,Towns and LAFD members. Monies disbursed would have been treated as actual wages for hours worked, and W-2 forms would have been issued at the end of each tax year that would have included the $30 monthly tax credit as required by Wisconsin state law. Yet, the plan was never considered. Dare we ask why?

Still, is anyone really that surprised by the Board’s lack of disclosure on this matter? After all, board members had no problem in disregarding  the fire department’s selection of Mark Wickham as Fire Chief in December, 2008, and have felt no obligation to explain their reasons for  appointing Brian Worthing to the position despite his lack of experience. (the  board’s own by-laws require five years‘ experience for Fire Chief and Worthing has four)

And, while I ado acknowledge the Board’s legal right to make the final selection according to State law, I am wondering if the Board gave any thought as to how their  disregard of the LAFD vote might effect Department morale.  It appears they did not.

Indeed, for Robbie Buchanan, the board’s decision not to appoint  Wickham as fire chief was enough for Buchanan to submit his resignation from the LAFD on 12/05/08, three months shy of his 20-year anniversary.  And, he is not the only one to resign; in the last twenty months, some 15 members of the LAFD have resigned including seven firefighters with over 123 years of experience.

Who is to blame for all of this? Although I won’t point my  finger at any one individual,  I firmly believe that a little more honest disclosure on the part of certain elected and appointed officials would have been helpful in moving the department out of its current malaise and on to a more positive path.

Tell me, is that too much to ask?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 InTheKnow April 23, 2009 at 9:20 PM

Not only do we all need to hear from ALL of the LAFD members (past and present) but all the LAFD Fire Board members (past and present) AND we all need to read the approved minutes of all the meetings (past and present) – only then will everyone have “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. If people are listening to only “former LAFD members” they may not be hearing ALL the facts. The LAFD fire members WERE offered many options for “payments” by the Fire Board, as the Fire Board is required by law to do, and the firefighters voted on the point system. It was not a totally unanimous decision, but a motion that passed obviously by more than 50% of the firefighters present per laws. That’s called democracy.

Talking to several tax preparers, ALL firefighters can claim the tax deduction whether it’s on their W2’s or not, this is something that’s not on their W2’s, it’s very easy to prove they’re entitled to it by easily proving they’re firefighters (which is proven by the fact they receive pay from the LAFD). AND, the City of Lodi has been doing the “payroll” for the firefighters only for the past year, before that it was done by the LAFD’s own “accountant”.

People need to not to make their decisions on this matter based on information they receive from “former” firefighters only – they need to base their decisions from everyone involved and on “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” – that’s what America is based upon and what real democracy is.

In conclusion – isn’t it about time all the backstabbing, name calling, etc… come to an end and the LAFD get back to what its dedicated volunteers VOLUNTEERED to do – to “protect and serve the community”. I don’t know a LAFD member who volunteered to do what they do for the money. The legal name for the LAFD is the “Lodi Area VOLUNTEER Fire Department”, so that means they’re not doing it for the money, but as a public service they are all proud to provide no matter whether they are “paid” or not. Whatever happened to civic duty and civic pride – I’m afraid it is dying a slow and painful death – being replace by the “me” society.

2 Carole Roche April 22, 2009 at 8:26 PM

A former LAFD member advised me that the Fire Board alone made the decision to use the point system, and that LAFD members had no say in the matter whatsoever. Furthermore, firefighters have been unable to claim the tax credit as the City of Lodi has refused to put the credit on members’ W2 forms. They can not take the credit without some proof they are entitled to receive it.

My conclusion to all of this is that unless a former LAFD member who knows the truth of this situation is willing to step forward and talk about it, there really is no way to establish which of these explanations is correct.

Sadly, it seems that no one will. Ah, democracy.

3 InTheKnow April 21, 2009 at 5:30 PM

(1) The IRS notified ALL fire department and ambulance services several years ago that they had to pay taxes on the pay they received; the LAEMS decided to follow the IRS law immediately, the LAVFD decided to wait to see if the IRS changed its mind.
(2) The firefighters, not the Fire Board, voted on the point system themselves from a list of options presented to them on how to be paid when it became clear the IRS was not going to change its mind.
(3) Every firefighter gets the $360/year (the $30/month mentioned) tax credit when they file their income taxes; they or their tax preparer just have to make sure to claim it on their tax returns.
(4) I truthfully believe that our firefighters and EMS personnel should be “paid” much more and shouldn’t have to pay taxes on what they earn, but then to be fair you’d have to extend the same to any other profession that risk their lives to save lives such as police, and even doctors, nurses and other medical personnel risk their lives to save lives. And don’t forget our military personnel giving the ultimate sacrifice – yet they have to pay taxes on their military pay.

4 sundayslady April 21, 2009 at 1:06 PM

IN the KNOW,

What “facts” are you referring to when critizing Carole? If you are going to say “she doesn’t have the facts” then YOU need to produce details or you just sound like sour grapes.

Thank you Carole for helping to explain what has become a very confusing situation to those of us not directly involved.

5 Carole Roche April 21, 2009 at 9:58 AM

Dear In the Know,

Other than enlightening me and the rest of the world with a clear definition of the difference between towns, villages, and cities, can you actually provide any specifics as to the incorrectness of this editorial? (Yes, it is an editorial, in the know, not an article, )

Or perhaps you would prefer to rely on your rather lame name-calling and bias profiling (i.e., typical Chicago talk, open mouth, etc.,) as opposed to presenting any specifics data.

For someone with such an ego-inflated moniker as in the know, that should be right up your alley.

6 InTheKnow April 20, 2009 at 8:20 PM

Typical Chicago talk – open mouth, insert foot, and try to sound like you know what you’re talking about. It’s horribly irritating when people say things about which they haven’t bothered to get ALL the facts first – and even worse when people believe everything they read. The information in this article are so incorrect in this that it’s not funny. By the way Carole, you live in the CITY of Lodi, not the TOWN of Lodi. There IS a big difference. “Lodi” includes City of Lodi, Town of Lodi, and portions of the Town’s of West Point, Dekorra, Dane and Arlington.

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