Amid dwindling ranks, a regionalized fire service should be explored
There is no disputing the need for communities to have a dependable, quality fire company — paid or volunteer.
There also should be no squabble whatsoever over having well-trained, dedicated firefighters and sufficient firefighting equipment.
But there always is controversy over how to fund firefighting services, just like the need to properly fund other critical services, education and so on.
Woodward Township supervisors in Clinton County are faced with having to find additional funding for Dunnstown Volunteer Fire Co. as the company — like all volunteer companies — has seen its finances and fund-raising capabilities, along with its ranks, dwindle.
Plus, Dunnstown is faced with having to replace a 25-year-old fire truck, not to mention keep the lights on at the station.
At a minimum, it’s estimated new truck would cost roughly $650,000.
How supervisors should raise more money is the subject of debate, as evident from recent public meetings.
Supervisors say they’re considering a fire tax as allowed by the second class township code – a tax assessed on property – to fund the fire company’s operation and equipment needs.
The size of the tax — a quarter mill to 1 mill — is up for consideration.
A 1 mill tax would generate $137,620; a quarter mill would generate $34,000.
Supervisors seem to lean toward 1 mill because of the high cost to replace a fire truck. They would control release of the funds generated.
Supervisors said they are not allowed, by law, to unilaterally impose a flat tax or fee – something more residents appear to be comfortable with.
We wholeheartedly support firefighters, too, and we certainly believe firefighting services should be adequately funded.
But we believe the time has come for a regionalized firefighting service that could also help the thinning ranks of volunteers with workload, fundraising, equipment costs and more.
We urge the Clinton County commissioners to hasten discussions via a sort of fire services task force – an initiative revealed at one of the hearings.
Regional service makes a lot of sense.
We are told, for example, that of the 272 calls Dunnstown responded to in 2019, about half were to nearby municipalities as mutual aid.
We expect that’s the same percentage of mutual aid calls for most local fire companies.
It’s like a nearby state senator said, fire companies have become too good at what they do. People call 911 – fire companies – for most every emergency, necessary or not. The result is a strain on the system and a more difficult recruitment of volunteers who are trying to work and raise families.
Is a paid regional service called for?
It should be investigated, along with an all-volunteer, or a combined paid and volunteer service.
Lawmakers also need to re-assess the most equitable way to fund fire companies.
A task force made up of veteran fire company officials, budget experts and, of course, local elected officials could help provide solutions to the challenges facing our much needed and under appreciated volunteer fire companies.