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Out of reach

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A vote held last week to authorize the Calcium Fire Department to buy a large new firetruck exposed a couple of interesting details.

First is the fact that a commercial zone was created within Calcium’s fire district in 2008. Property owners within this zone are taxed twice for fire protection as a way to save up for an aerial firetruck that Fire Department officials want to buy.

The second anomaly is that most property owners within this zone were ineligible to vote in the Aug. 21 districtwide referendum. That’s because with the exception of about 10 households, all properties within the zone are owned by businesses.

The referendum measure, which failed 31-16, asked voters if the department could borrow $800,000 to buy the desired aerial firetruck. The commercial zone has so far netted $340,000, and the ongoing revenue collected from this portion of the district would be used to retire the debt.

Fire officials have also planned to sell a 24-year-old fire tanker for about $100,000. The aerial firetruck would replace this vehicle, and the money raised would go toward the new truck’s purchase.

So why do representatives of the Fire Department believe they need a new vehicle? The Candlewood Suites Hotel on Route 11 in Evans Mills has four stories, and the firetrucks used by the department have ladders that only extend two stories. The aerial firetruck would reach the third and fourth floors of the hotel if necessary.

A local Walmart and the three-story Days Inn hotel located on Route 11 also would likely require the aerial firetruck. So the Fire Department wants to buy an apparatus whose specialty would benefit all of three structures. Otherwise, this vehicle —paid for by a small number of constituents —would likely be used throughout the district during regular runs.

There is an alternative to borrowing so much money, and the Calcium Fire Department is already using it. As is common among most fire departments, Calcium has mutual aid agreements with neighboring agencies — and several of them have trucks that fill Calcium’s particular need.

The Fort Drum Fire Department is two miles away and the Black River Fire Department four miles away. Even at a distance of six-and-a-half miles, the City of Watertown Fire Department is close by.

This is not to minimize the urgent need for the quickest response possible by public safety personnel in emergencies. Fires spread rapidly inside structures, so immediate attention is vital.

But governmental entities must wrestle with providing their residents with the best service possible that they can afford. After five years, the Calcium Fire Department has raised less than half the money it needs to buy this new firetruck through its dubious commercial zone, where property owners are taxed twice for the same service everyone receives and most of them can’t vote on issues directly impacting them.

The Fire Department should rely on its mutual aid agreements with surrounding agencies to provide adequate services to the few large buildings in town requiring longer ladders. And forget about holding any further referendums on this issue.

The department also should dissolve its commercial zone and either rebate the money collected so far or place the revenue in its general fund. But to saddle 10 households and a handful of businesses with such an enormous debt to pay for a new firetruck that will be used districtwide is nonsense.

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