PYMATUNING Township dodged a bullet Tuesday night. After a stalemate that threatened to leave residents without fire coverage, township trustees and the Transfer Volunteer Fire Department reached an agreement that kept fire service for the community.
Both sides have agreed to a study, and a .25-mill increase in payments from the township to the fire department.
The study, trustees say, will look at finances, equipment needs and coverage area.
Although the trustees say the township was never without fire protection — Greenville’s fire department provided coverage under a mutual aid agreement — the township’s contract with Transfer expired on Dec. 31.
And it is well within the realm of possibilities to suggest that the township and the volunteer fire department should have had this dispute wrapped up well before the expiration date.
And their community said as much.
No matter what the accommodations were, the dispute, and the township’s reluctance to accept the proposed increase, about .5 mills, left many residents concerned that the inability to reach an agreement might threaten their safety.
Hmmm. Remind you of another stalemate, not so far, far away?
At any rate, there are several takeaways from this community’s concerns and the question of how to make sure safety of residents jibes with budget realities.
There are no rich townships anymore. In fact, in some parts of the state, government entities in small communities are considering alternatives to operating local police and fire departments.
It is not because trustees or other public officials don’t care about protecting their citizens.
It is because the tax money to support these units simply is not there anymore.
And that is where the rubber meets the road.
There are two ways to ensure your community has the local fire and police protection you want.
The first is to support the tax increases to maintain those departments.
And these days, no one wants to pay more taxes — mostly because they aren’t sure that governments have the penny-pinching skills they need when it comes to public money.
So, a study of any public operation to see if money is being spent efficiently and how to staff with public safety and economy in mind is not such a bad idea.
But there is another way, too, and one that should occur even if the tax money is in place to support some of the fire protection.
Volunteer fire departments are just that — volunteers. They receive some money from local entities, but for the rest of their expenses, they have fundraisers to support them.
Attend a steak fry or buy a raffle ticket, and you are supporting the men and women who are there when the sirens sound.
It is the least we can do to thank the people who give up their time and who risk their lives to serve their communities.
The question of how to do more with less is never going to go away.
There are all sorts of strains on local government budgets.
Exploring ways to pool resources to fund fire and police protection is not such a bad idea.
But just throwing up your hands and saying, “Well, we just cannot afford that,” is no solution.
Pymatuning Township is not the only community facing these sorts of questions.
The answer lies in the intersection of local funding, eagle-eye budget management and creative ways to provide services.
More and more, those who agree to serve in public office will have to be hyper-conscious of all three.