FIRE SERVICE CONSOLIDATION STUDY: SAVE THE MONEY
(I should start by acknowledging that both John Myers and Hank Hove spoke out for studying
fire service consolidation, not for actually doing so. This distinction requires a whole
new look at the subject:)
The question had to do with creating a borough fire department that would, as the News-Miner
article put it, "serve all residents."
I imagine this probably includes not only the residents of Salcha and Two Rivers, but
also those who have built their homes on Haystack Mountain, north of the Chatanika River
by way of the Elliott Highway -- not to mention the Weltons and several others who live
along the Steese Highway beyond the Chatanika Lodge. It would also include people with
homes along the Parks highway south of Skinny Dick's.
Extending fire protection to these residents will require the construction of at least
five new stations (in most cases, admittedly, not much more than garages) and the
acquisition of equipment to stock them -- as well as obtaining the services of
firefighters to use the equipment. And even then the borough's shiny new fire department
won't be able to save many more homes than the existing service areas can at a fraction of
the cost -- and the service areas only cost those who live within their boundaries.
To offer substantially better protection would require construction of many more
stations, with the additional equipment and manpower necessary to make them useful. At
about the point where the borough fire department costs borough residents roughly twice
what an existing fire service area costs its residents, it will be able to say that
it provides effective fire service to all residents reachable by road.
Which would be fine if only those residents reachable by road could be taxed for the
service. There are year-round homes in this borough reachable only by boat in the summer,
and snowmachine in the winter. How can they be protected at a level commensurate with the
taxes they'll have to pay?
Would it be the position of the borough administration and the Assembly that those
people chose to live out there and be without ready access to the services they pay for?
Would the borough callously ignore the fact that when those people moved out there, there
was no fire service tax to pay?
I guess it depends on who's elected at the time -- but the people who are talking
about wasting money to study the idea (which I can tell them *for free* is simply not
feasible) are the same ones who already take the callous position suggested above: that
outlying residents choose to be beyond the easy reach of borough services.
To be running for office and say, "That's a good idea, let's study it,"
leaves a cynical politician the convenient "out" of saying, once the facts are
assessed, "Well, it's a good idea but we just can't do it right now." Or, as
Bill Clinton did on the middle-class tax cut, "Ah worked harder than Ah ever have to
make it happen, but Ah jist couldn't fahnd a way to do it."
The veteran Assemblyman and the retired cop both know better.
And I'm very disappointed in Roger Shoffstall, who apparently doesn't -- but is
willing to steamroll public resistance to consolidation, in the name of
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The ADVANCE ALASKA Networkmcgehee@mosquitonet.com
© 1997 KEVIN McGEHEE
North Pole, Alaska
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