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Our View: Time is now to talk consolidation

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The cost of doing fire business in our area is getting expensive and some officials are reporting there’s less and less revenue to support it.
It’s time for residents and fire officials to take steps toward opening up the conversation about consolidating the area’s rural fire districts. It’s a decision that may not be easy, but necessary to ensure needed fire protection and emergency response in the foothills. And it’s a decision that must be made with the goal of saving money for taxpayers as one of the main priorities.
One of the bonuses of consolidation can be streamlining administration, purchasing large equipment such as fire trucks in bulk, and, most importantly, being able to sustain fire coverage in smaller districts that are facing dwindling revenues.
Newcastle Fire Protection District successfully fought to raise its budget with a higher parcel tax on home and property owners. As a result, the district’s budget went from about $343,000 a year to $627,000 for the current fiscal year.
Doubling its budget, however, is still small in comparison to budgets of nearby fire districts – Higgins Fire district, for example, has about a $1.18 million budget and it’s struggling to keep stations open. So we’re skeptical that Newcastle Fire’s new budget will meet its needs in the long-term.
Other area districts, such as Higgins and Placer Hills, have tried to raise their revenue through ballot measures that have failed. Higgins is trying another ballot measure now.
Longtime Placer Hills Fire Chief Ian Gow said he believes many small fire districts will need to look at consolidation in the next few years.
“The assumption is that, you take a number of broke fire departments and make one big fire department, you’ll probably just have a big broke department, but we think the reality is that the economy of scale, fewer fire chiefs, fewer administrations, if we can make it a little more efficient, we could, in fact, save money over the long haul for everybody,” Gow told the Journal last week.
Area fire chiefs along with elected officials should outline the benefits and downfalls of consolidation and then hold a public forum to share that information with residents.
Opening up the discussion on consolidation can help residents understand the current reality and what the future of fire protection is in their area. Whether or not the option is something they want can help direct taxpayers to push for consolidation or support upcoming fire tax measures if they want to keep their own district.
Now is the time to plan for the future of our emergency services and not wait until local fire districts are in worse financial straits.