Our View: Third time's a charm?

They can't predict when it'll happen. One day, Craig Fire/Rescue crews could pull an engine out of the station, and it could break down. They could be unable to respond to a call.

That call could be at your house.

Craig Rural Fire Prot--ection District is asking voters to approve a 1 1/2 mill-levy increase Nov. 8 for the purchase of equipment vital to the department's operations.

If it fails, one broken down engine could be just the first of a list of deficiencies that keeps crews from protecting our property and our lives.

Every year, the department responds to about 300 calls to fight fires, assist on medical calls, extricate accident victims and remove hazardous materials from our streets.

But each year, the engines, tankers and breathing apparatuses they use to perform these duties are getting older and more worn out. Soon, they will simply stop working.

That's why the department is asking voters -- for the third time in the past five years -- to approve a tax increase for a 10-year capital improvement plan. The plan includes the replacement of six engines, self-contained breathing apparatuses and a compressor, as well as a new roof for the station.

The plan is bare bones, asking strictly for what the department will need for the next 10 years without allowing for inflation or a margin of error.

An approved mill levy would raise about $350,000 per year. The 10-year capital improvement plan calls for about $3.25 million in equipment expenditures.

Translation: the department built no frills into this proposal and created a fiscally responsible plan.

Although we admire the department for sticking to a shoestring proposal, we're cautioned by knowing that prices can and will rise in the coming years, and unexpected expenses are bound to pop up.

But maybe that's all the more reason for voters to approve the mill levy. The department is already behind the eight ball financially, and without an approved November tax question, it will lag further behind.

Given voter apprehension on previous questions, you can't blame the fire department for being so conservative on this question. Voters certainly haven't been willing to fork over necessary funds.

A brief history:

  • In the department's first request four years ago, it included the cost of a training center for firefighters. Voters responded to what they considered an unnecessary expense with a losing, 80-to-20 landslide vote.
  • Voters again turned down a request for money in 2004, but only by 9 percent.

We hope this latest result is evidence that voters are coming around and are ready to approve the department's request.

It certainly won't cost taxpayers much.

Residential and agriculture property owners currently pay $15.90 annually per $100,000 assessed value and would pay $27.86 annually if the fire mill levy were approved.

Business owners' taxes would increase from $57.92 to $101.42 a year per $100,000 assessed value.

Is that unreasonable? We don't think so.

A failed proposal would mean the loss of two funding sources -- public tax money and future grant funding from the Department of Local Affairs.

DOLA already has made clear that the department, which has one of the lowest mill levies in the state, will not receive any more grant money without a commitment by taxpayers to foot some of the bill.

Additionally, even by rejecting the proposal, taxpayers could end up paying more.

Old or faulty equipment could mean the fire department would fail to meet minimum fire safety standards. Failing to meet safety standards is a warning sign to insurance companies, meaning home insurance premiums could go up.

And let us not forget the worse effect of all -- our homes or businesses simply burning to the ground because our department is ill-equipped to respond.

Instead of looking at the department's mill levy as an additional expense, voters should look at the question as an investment in the safety of themselves, their families and businesses.

The bottom line is this proposal is good for our pocket books, for the department and for our community.

The fire department is relying on us now, as we rely on them every day. So, come Nov. 8, let's take the heat for them, as they do for us.

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