One year ago, the Town of Sidney put off hiring more full-time firefighters because they didn’t have the money — and they had hopes for other ways of attracting new volunteers.
Today, volunteer numbers are down to around 30, where they were at 37 last year at the same time. The big problem for Sidney is the lack of sufficient bodies to respond to emergency calls during the day. It’s at the point where community safety could be at risk.
The town is now looking to create a blended department — hiring four full-time firefighters over the next five to six years to bring the total to seven career members. The move would, in the next two years, ensure enough firefighters are available to respond in the daylight hours.
There’s an added cost. A fire department that costs just over $1 million now, will cost taxpayers more than $1.3 million by 2017, should the hiring plan be completed as drawn out by town staff. The impact of this plan will be on the pocketbooks of residents, as a tax increase will be required to pay for it.
Yes, the council and staff will look at ways to make savings in their financial plan. A 3.19 per cent proposed tax hike is only the starting point (Sidney got it down to 2.81 per cent in 2012). Added costs, a rough economy and lower housing assessments make it unlikely that tax hikes will be nil in 2013.
The bottom line, however, is public safety. The extra costs are not ideal for many taxpayers, yet if emergency service is severely limited by a lack of volunteers, the municipality has little choice but to find a way to keep the trucks rolling when the call comes in.
That’s the town’s number one job — the safety and security of its residents.
Ease of mind trumps the cost.