With the mid-term elections behind us, we now need to look forward.
With a nation concerned about the economy and our growing deficit that was created by out-of-control spending, it should come as no surprise that spending cuts are a reality that we must face.
As a push to limit federal government begins to kick in, I believe that less federal money will be made available to local government and in particular; local fire service.
Local and state governments will be asked to carry the bulk of their fire protection expense.
For instance; our county is facing a 1.3 million dollar deficit, unless new revenue streams can be found.
If not, I believe we are facing cuts in funding.
Do we take a “wait and see” position or do we go to the table with a realistic spending plan?
If we don’t, then funding decisions will be made FOR us and let’s face it; the elections was a referendum on the intrusive, “nanny state” mentality of our current government power brokers.
We cannot simply stand in line with our hands out.
The fire service must make every effort to demonstrate that public safety can operate without being a money drain to the local economy.
We need to offer value-added service and consider such strategies as charging for services that are not funded through conventional fire protection taxes.
If we have to ADD services to keep manpower at adequate levels, then we have to find the wherewithal to pay for it, because communities will be unlikely to add jobs if it adds to the debt.
We should be open to performing such services as hydrant inspections that includes flushing/flow testing. We may want to consider building inspections that includes health and safety risks, structural integrity, fire suppression and alarm systems and to conduct inspections of the early phases of new construction.
We should be included in any local, open burning legislation that would allow the fire department to require a fee for the permit to burn. A pre-burn inspection could also be done.
We have also gone to the businesses in our rural community and they have been more than willing to supplement our rescue services with purchases of equipment designed for confined space and grain bin rescues. Our very first set of extrication tools was purchased 100% with donations. From start to finish, it took less than three months to raise the $14,000. That was 1985 and our community continues to support us with their donations AND their taxes.
These are just a few off of the top of my head that could make every difference for a volunteer fire department. I’m sure that we can come up with more.
If you are not charging out of district users for your services; you should be. Anyone from out of district who has the misfortune of experiencing a vehicle accident that requires fire department services typically has insurance to cover the costs of their accident. Reasonable charges should be assessed. Our fire district adds several thousand dollars to the general fund every year from non-district users’ fees.
Businesses in our communities need to understand extraordinary circumstances that extend beyond a typical request for fire service. That is; if the response requires more technical assistance than fire suppression, then a bill for services should be considered. Examples of “non-typical” would be a trench/building collapse or a confined space rescue. Hazardous material calls should also be billed. Fire districts need to remember that public law only requires fire districts to provide for the publics’ fire protection. Unless the law has been amended to include other, specific tasks, you may also be in violation of the public trust if you are spending tax money for equipment that is not for firefighter or the public’s safety with regards to fire “protection”. It would be prudent to check your local and state laws.
From personal experience, I can tell you that our laws in Illinois are explicit on what can and cannot be purchased with tax money. As a small example, we are discouraged from even purchasing flowers for a funeral; the point being that, if we do it for one taxpayer, we would have to do it for all taxpayers and that wouldn’t be wise use of tax money where it is a tax for fire protection. You get the point.
If our communities are going to look at us when spending cuts need to be made, then they must also understand that there are costs associated with what we do.
A community that is willing to cut their public safety when economic times are tough must also be willing to pay for it when the money is there and especially if we are willing to show them additional funding mechanisms. Why should a fire department run lean and mean and have a budget surplus only to have it “swept” and used for other government expense or worse; are told to cut even more? It happens.
However; if you live in a community where the residents believe that those “community clean up days” are free, then yes; we have an uphill battle to fight.
So; we will educate them for “free”!
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