Most people don’t like paying taxes. Money taken out of a paycheck isn’t something to get excited about, and it’s one of the driving reasons why people get out to vote. But there’s one area that deserves your reconsideration when it comes to budget increases. After all – it could help save your life. Your local fire department needs your help, just as much as you might need theirs.
On the surface level, fire departments across the US are supported financially by their communities. According to the 2018 Fire Referendum Report released by the Firefighters and EMS Fund, 80% of the referendums put forth by fire departments passed in general elections. Nearly 80% of the $224 million requested through these referendums were approved by voters; a whopping $174 million. It sounds like a lot of money, with which firefighters and EMS workers can do a lot of good. But this amount still leaves the majority of fire departments coming up short.
Let’s break it down even further. Of the 62 referendums studied in the report, 32 of them were operations-based. According to the report, these requests were simply to maintain costs as-is, rather than seeking increased funding. Small increases in property taxes and bond sales were some of the ways these referendums proposed to increase capital, while having a minimal impact on the out-of-pocket expenses to civilians. Of the 32 operations-based referendums presented, 24 (75%) were passed.
Unfortunately, for many fire departments, even the small ask for a budget to maintain their stations and staff isn’t enough. The operational struggles of many fire jurisdictions leave aging and outdated ambulances on the road, and broken equipment unrepaired. In more extreme cases, it causes mass layoffs, and even station closures.
Why is this happening? Why do fire departments need more money than ever before to operate? Population size is the first issue. In many of the districts where the referendums studied were presented, a notable increase in population size had occurred in the past decade. More civilians require more firefighters and EMS workers, and the budget stations were previously working with simply does not allow them to hire more staff. Growing with the population is the number of fires. The increase in natural disasters due to climate change is increasing the number of incidents fire departments are reporting to. Additionally, cities are still feeling the effects of the 2008 recession, when tax income was lowered and fire departments across the country took a substantial hit.
While existing fire departments are struggling to maintain their stations, new fire stations are facing an entirely different problem. According to the report, the area that received the most pushback from voters were requests for funds to build, staff, and maintain new fire stations, rather than those that communities already knew and were familiar with. These requests failed nearly 60% of the time. And with growing populations and increases in fire emergencies, many departments are forced to serve a wider and more dense jurisdictions. What voters don’t understand is that passage of these referendums are the only way to allow service providers to properly serve their communities.
So how do we help solve the issue? To some degree, it is the responsibility of department heads to educate the public on these issues, help them understand the ballot measures, and how they impact the community. A fire department that cannot properly serve its jurisdiction leaves everyone at risk. And while voters responded kindly to most of the studied referendums proposed by fire departments (It’s worth mentioning that requests for an increase in firefighter benefits passed 100% of the time) they lack a basic understanding of how even small operational approvals are simply not enough in most cases.
If you’d like to help the budget crisis for fire departments in your community, you can call local department heads and ask them to advocate for the cause, post on social media, or donate to the Firefighter and EMS fund here.
“The Firefighters and EMS Fund is dedicated to advocating for the safety and well-being of firefighters and their families in our political process. This group of public servants deserve a unified voice in government. Our coalition of everyday citizens, public officials and organizations are dedicated to providing that voice for firefighters, the local heroes across our country that require the support of their fellow citizens and public officials.”
With 2020 being an election year, Firefighters and EMS Fund will take advantage of as many opportunities to support ballot measures that will benefit firefighters as possible.