Garner is rapidly approaching the time when it is going to have to make some difficult decisions regarding fire protection. The Garner Fire Department is not a town function. It’s not a county function. Yet it depends on both entities for financial support. And both the town and the county depend on the fire department to keep residents and property safe.
For the past few years, fire officials have beaten a steady path to the town council’s door seeking increased funding at a time when Wake County is steadily reducing its support for fire services throughout the county.
Now comes a developer who wants to build what, on its face, seems like a welcome residential development in a part of town that officials would like to see grow more. Among the considerations in such a matter is how the fire department will protect that property and the people who live there. The fire department does not have a fire station close by and fire department officials say they worry that the lengthy travel time will impair their ability to adequately serve the area.
Building a fire station is no small matter. Aside from the brick and mortar costs associated with a new fire house, there are also staffing needs associated with a new fire station. All this adds up to the need for even more dollars at a time when the fire department is already one of the lowest paid departments in Wake County.
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Garner officials would do well to study other communities that have addressed fire department needs and look for ways it can absorb the fire department into a town operation. It would be expensive, to be sure, but the town is already sinking hundreds of thousands of dollars into a department over which it has little other control. And the town’s needs for fire service grow almost daily.
Other towns have taken that step and been successful. Knightdale, a much smaller operation than Garner, successfully established its own fire department several years ago and townsfolk there seem generally satisfied with the result. And they did it without breaking the banks of taxpayers.
Bringing the fire department under the town’s umbrella also gives the department additional negotiating leverage with Wake County as it seeks to address budget needs. The county will likely continue funding the department at some level because it wants the firefighters to put out fires that take place in the unincorporated areas around the city limits that fall only under the county’s governance. The town can allow that to happen so long as the county pays a fair share for the service.
But as things stand now, they have no ability to negotiate on the fire department’s behalf. Meanwhile, the fire department is left stretching its dollars further and further, to the detriment of the people it serves.