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Fire/rescue squads need help, not study

June 07, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

After hearing that cuts in staffing have caused Community Rescue Service to miss some calls and arrive late on others, Washington County Commissioner Bert Iseminger on Tuesday did what up to now has been unthinkable - said the county may want to consider a fire and ambulance tax. It's about time that elected officials realize that wishing won't solve the fire/rescue service's funding problems.

In 1998 the last board of commissioners commissioned a $90,000 consultant study of the fire/rescue system. That analysis didn't address a lot of issues, such as whether paid personnel or a fire tax were needed. The commissioners asked for an addendum, which said, yes, a fire tax was needed, but not how much it should be.

The current board then sent the report to the Emergency Services Council, which spent more than a year reviewing it. ESC didn't recommend a fire tax, but said that a county-wide appeal for funds should be conducted.

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It was a good idea, because if citizens failed to respond, the commissioners could fairly say that there was no alternative to a fire tax. But there's been no announcement of any such appeal.

In the meantime, rescue companies' call loads have continued to increase, putting more financial pressure on CRS, which runs more calls than all other companies combined. Many CRS calls come in some of the poorest areas of the county, where few residents have insurance that can be billed for transports.

After a consultant study, a year-long review by a citizen panel and the hiring of an Emergency Services Director, any call for further study will quickly expose the candidate who makes that call as one of two things: Someone who is inexcusably ill-informed or someone who is willing to pander to the "no new taxes" crowd - and risk lives doing it - until after the election is over.

Enough study already. Plan the fund-raiser, enact a fire tax, but do something. Continued inaction risks the lives and health of Washington County residents.

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